Q. What law applies to an accident occurring on an offshore oil platform?
A. Under the provisions of the federal law known as The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, and based upon many decisions of the United States Supreme Court, the law of the adjacent state applies to offshore platforms to determine fault of parties causing an accident. In other words, if an accident happens on a platform off the coast of Louisiana, Louisiana accident law applies to determine the relative responsibility of various parties. In such a case, the fault of all parties will be analyzed and assigned a percentage, and each will be responsible for his share of the damages caused by his fault. With regard to workers’ compensation matters, the same federal law provides that any worker making a claim against his direct employer must file a claim under the United States Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. This is a federal workers’ compensation act which provides automatic weekly payments and payment of medical expenses for injured workers relative to their own employers. Those injured workers can still make claims against other parties who are not their employer. In such a case, a claim would be made against another company which caused the accident, and the workers’ compensation insurer of the injured worker would be entitled to recoup some of the benefits it paid as a result of the accident.
Q. Do platform workers ever have a right to proceed under maritime law?
A. Platform workers who are injured while being transported by boats, helicopters, platform baskets, and swing ropes and who are injured over navigable waters have the right to sue the responsible parties for full recovery under maritime law. They are not considered to be Jones Act employees and cannot file a claim under the Jones Act. However, they can file a claim for all their damages under maritime law.
Under the United States Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, Section 905 (b), even employees who are covered by workers’ compensation under the Act can still sue their employer if the employer was also a vessel owner or vessel charterer of the vessel on which they were injured. This is known as a “dual capacity” claim and is applicable only in certain limited situations. In other words, if an employee happened to be on a vessel owned by his employer, but that employee was not a member of the crew of the vessel, he could still sue his employer for both Longshore benefits and file a claim under maritime law if his injury was caused by the fault of the vessel which his employer was operating.
Q. If I am offshore worker injured on a platform, how much time do I have to file a claim?
A. Most of the platforms located in the Gulf of Mexico are located adjacent to the states of Louisiana and Texas. In Louisiana, an injured worker has one year from the date of the accident to file a claim against the responsible party. In the state of Texas, a two-year statute of limitations is in effect.