The oil and gas industry began to explore for oil and gas off the coasts of Louisiana and Texas almost 60 years ago. Today, thousands of offshore platforms have been built in the Gulf of Mexico. These platforms are serviced by an extensive infrastructure of pipelines and navigational aids. In order to clarify the legal status of these platforms, the United States Congress passed the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (“OCSLA”). This basically establishes federal ownership of all water bottoms beginning at the three-mile limit from the coast and extending to the edge of the shallow sea bottom abutting the coast known as the “Outer Continental Shelf.” By virtue of OCSLA and extensive federal case law, it has been established firmly that accidents occurring on oil and gas platforms located on the Outer Continental Shelf are governed not by federal law, but by the law of the adjacent state where the platform is located.
Oil and gas platforms are considered to be analogous to artificial islands, and when an accident occurs on these platforms the law of the adjacent state applies to govern the claim arising from the accident. In the case of platforms located off the Louisiana coast, the Louisiana law of negligence, comparative negligence, and the laws concerning premises defects and employer liability all apply as the substantive law of the claim. Also applicable in such a situation is the Louisiana law providing that employer fault must be figured into the analysis of comparative fault. If an injured employee’s employer has been negligent, causing an accident on a platform, the employer’s fault will be calculated, and this amount will be deducted from the claim, as well as any fault of the injured employee. The issue of workers’ compensation will be described below.
In a platform claim, a party injured on a platform off the coast of Louisiana will be allowed to claim the same type of damages described above in negligence cases.
OCSLA also provides federal courts with jurisdiction over an injury claim arising on an offshore platform. In such a case, an injured party may decide to file a claim in federal court or may elect to assert the same claim in state court under proper circumstances. Once again, such a determination will typically be made by an experienced trial attorney representing the injured party.