While the U.S. Coast Guard called off its search for maritime workers lost in the Seacor Power lift boat accident, volunteers from the Cajun Navy continue searching the coastal areas of Louisiana.
Aided by the help of donations from hundreds of Louisianans and even former President Donald Trump, the Cajun Navy reported via Facebook that its massive search effort includes boats, airboats, drones, seaplanes, helicopters, marsh buggies, drones, ATV’s, search dogs, and people walking the marsh. The search encompasses coastal areas around Terrebonne Parish and has resulted in the recovery of significant Seacor debris, including 12 life jackets.
Why Were Seacor Maritime Workers Subjected To Dangerous Weather Conditions?
As the Cajun Navy works hard to locate lost loved ones and provide grieving families with closure, many Louisiana residents question why these maritime workers were subjected to such dangerous weather conditions in the first place. At the time of the Seacor accident, there were reports of high winds and limited visibility.
Since news of this tragic accident broke, Seacor CEO John Gellert has said that the decision to sail into the tumultuous weather ultimately rested with David Ledet, the captain of the Seacor vessel. Mr. Gellert’s statement is generally consistent with the age-old principle in maritime law that the captain of a vessel is responsible for the safety and well-being of his crew.
Nevertheless, captains of vessels answer to onshore supervisors and executives that often provide orders that they expect to be followed. Unfortunately, sometimes instructions given by onshore supervisors are motivated by the financial concerns of the company at the expense of the safety of the vessel crew. Captains are sometimes asked and/or pressured to push the safety limits to complete tasks in a certain time frame. They may do this to satisfy a maritime company’s client or to maximize the financial incentives of a given offshore oil and gas contract. The captain and crew are placed in the precarious position of resisting the demands of their supervisors and facing potential demotion/termination or risk of their own safety.
A recently filed lawsuit by the widow of Captain David Ledet seems to bring some of these issues to bear and contradict the initial statements made by the Seacor CEO. The suit alleges that Seacor was ultimately responsible for this tragedy in so much as it directed Captain Ledet to set sail despite the fact that the National Weather Service had already issued several marine warnings for locations in and around Port Fourchon.
Offshore companies often contract with third parties to provide the most sophisticated weather data available. Securing accurate and up-to-date weather data is crucial to minimizing weather-related risks, such as high winds, storms, lightning strikes, etc., to maritime workers.
If a maritime company failed to secure such weather data, despite its availability and affordability, the maritime company could be held liable if an offshore worker was injured or killed in a weather-related event. Likewise, if a third-party weather service was hired by a maritime company to provide weather data and it failed to do so, the weather service company might also be held liable if an offshore worker was injured or killed.
As the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) continues its investigation into the tragic accident, it will be interesting to see what steps, if any, Seacor took to actively monitor weather conditions so as to minimize the risk to its offshore workers. It will also be interesting to learn what, if any, communications were had between onshore Seacor supervisors and Captain Ledet regarding the risk of the weather and how best to minimize such risks.
How Will Seacor Maritime Families Be Made Whole For Their Loss?
The tragedy and trauma of public disasters such as the Seacor accident leave many wondering how they would survive both emotionally and financially if they lost a spouse or parent. The compounding feelings of immense grief and financial fear of the future must be almost unbearable. Such feelings are only magnified by the absence of a loved one’s body to properly bury and begin the long process of mourning.
On top of all of this, the families of lost Seacor workers must now begin navigating the complicated landscape of maritime law. Maritime law, also known as admiralty law, encompasses U.S. law that governs activities in “navigable” water. It imposes certain safety responsibilities upon maritime companies that are designed to help protect offshore workers.
The families of offshore workers who die as a result of the negligence of maritime companies may pursue damages under The Death On The High Seas Act (DOHSA). Under DOSHA, a personal representative of the lost loved one’s family may pursue damages on behalf of family members that include the spouse, children, and dependents of the deceased.
A personal representative might be an individual chosen by the deceased before he/she passed away or appointed by the court to administer the deceased’s estate. When a claim is pursued under DOHSA, any damages recovered are added to the deceased estate and distributed in accordance with the deceased’s estate plans or the laws of the state where the succession is opened.
Maritime families pursuing claims under DOHSA may recover financial compensation for pecuniary losses suffered as a result of the death of their loved one. This means that damages provided by DOHSA are intended to compensate families for financial losses rather than emotional and mental damages that naturally occur after the death of a loved one. Damages that are recoverable under DOHSA include:
- Loss of financial support
- Loss of household services
- Loss of guidance
- Deceased’s pre-death pain and suffering
The Louisiana law firm of Herman, Herman & Katz has recovered over $35 billion for its clients. The firm’s extensive maritime experience led the court overseeing the DEEPWATER HORIZON litigation to select it to serve as co-lead counsel for the victims of the spill. The DEEPWATER HORIZON explosion and subsequent oil spill is widely considered to be the worst offshore maritime disaster in American history. Eleven offshore workers were killed, and many more were injured. Herman, Herman & Katz led the charge to hold BP accountable for its gross failures that led to this tragic maritime accident.
If you or someone you know has been injured in an offshore accident, our experienced maritime injury lawyers can help navigate the complexities of maritime law. For more information or a free case consultation, contact us online or call us toll-free at 844-943-7626.
Jed Cain is a partner with Herman, Herman & Katz, LLC. He has dedicated his career to representing injured folks and their families.