Articles by Alan Brackett

Death on Platform in State Waters May Be Within OCSLA Jurisdiction

A worker was killed on a platform located in Louisiana state waters when a pressurized valve blew, striking him in the head. The platform was a “collecting point” for pipelines running from Outer Continental Shelf platforms to shore. The platform owner filed a Motion for Summary Judgment to dismiss claims against it on the basis the OCSLA could not apply and that the decedent was covered by the Louisiana Workers’ Compensation Act. As a state worker, the decedent would be a statutory employee and the platform owner therefore protected from suit due to the exclusivity provision of the state act.

The District Court granted the Motion for Summary Judgment, but on a Motion for Reconsideration, denied the MSJ and allowed the suit against the platform owner to proceed. Citing the Supreme Court’s decision in Pacific Operators Offshore, LLP v. Valladolid, 132 S.Ct. 680 (2012), the court found that OCSLA has only two requirements: that extractive operations take place on the OCS, and that the injury in question must result from those operations. The “resulting from” standard requires a “substantial nexus” exist between the OCS operations and the injury.

Plaintiffs argued that the valve that blew causing the decedent’s death was pressurized to facilitate the movement of crude oil from the OCS through the transfer point on the platform. The court found this was a genuine issue of material fact sufficient to deny the Motion for Summary Judgment, as those facts could establish the necessary substantial nexus between OCS operations and the injury.

Mays v. Chevron Pipeline Co., No. 14-3098 U.S. D.C. W.D.LA. (2017)

Same Sex Spouse Can Recover Under DOHSA

In what appears to be a case of first impression, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida has held a same sex spouse can recover damages under the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) arising from the death of his husband while on a cruise on the high seas.

The facts recited by the Court are compelling: Plaintiff and his husband were subjected to ‘repetitive anti-gay insults’ while passengers onboard the cruise. On their first day onboard, they were repeatedly called a ‘lipstick’ by a bartender. The couple immediately complained to the cruise operator’s management about the incidents. The next evening, the husband was extremely distraught when employees called him ‘a pedophile and other anti-gay slurs.’ He returned to his stateroom and told his husband about the insults. Afterward, security officers reported to the couple’s stateroom and ‘engaged in an argument’ with them. ‘A series of events’ ensued and the decedent fell over the couple’s seventh deck stateroom balcony onto a life boat on deck six. He held on to the life boat for several minutes as crewmembers attempted to rescue him. The crewmembers grabbed his hand but failed to rescue him, and he fell into the ocean. The ship did not stop for some time and did not timely deploy rescue boats. After receiving a distress call from the cruise, the United States Coast Guard searched for the decedent but did not find him.

The Plaintiff sued for wrongful death of his husband, as well as for the intentional infliction of emotional distress for witnessing his husband’s death. On a Rule 6 Motion to Dismiss, the Court allowed the DOHSA claim to continue, but dismissed the claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress because, although Plaintiff was mere feet away from his husband and witnessed his fall and disappearance, he was not himself in the ‘zone of danger’ where he was at risk of physical harm.

Elbaz v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, No. 16-24568, U.S.D.C., S.D.FL.

Longshore Act Penalties Increased For 2017

The Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment And Improvements Act of 2015 requires the Department of Labor to annually adjust its civil monetary penalty levels for inflation. On January 13, 2017, DOL promulgated a final rule adjusting penalties for 2017. The new penalties are:

Failure or late filing of Form LS-202: $22,957
Failure or late filing of Form LS-208: $297
Minimum Penalty for Discrimination: $2,296
Maximum Penalty for Discrimination: $11,478

These increased rates are effective January 13, 2017.

OWCP Announces Staff Changes

On November 16th, OWCP announced that effective November 27, 2016, there will be a change in leadership in the Divisions of Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation and Federal Employees’ Compensation. On that day, the current DFEC Director, Doug Fitzgerald, will assume the role of Longshore Director. Tony Rios, the current Longshore Director, will become the DFEC Director.

It was also announced that Rholanda Basnight is serving as the Acting District Director in the Second District Office (New York).