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Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Claim in Louisiana?

Posted in Wrongful death on April 27, 2022

Louisiana is a hotbed for dangerous working conditions. From trucking to oil rigs and the Port of New Orleans, there are a wide variety of job descriptions that require workers to put themselves at heightened risks. Of course, this is hardly an option for people trying to feed their families and maintain their homes. In the River region alone, three out of every five jobs are directly related to the Port of South Louisiana. In any case, there are a plethora of examples of men and women who have been seriously injured or even killed while working. 

This brings up numerous questions by onlookers and those affected by tragedies such as these. These types of inquisitions are sometimes provoked, justifiably, by rage and confusion following the death of someone who is close to them. People may want to know who is at fault, who should be the target of legal action following the accident, and if this type of death was worth the profits that were at stake. 

The Despairing Story of the Seacor Power

This is exactly what happened in the case of Seacor Power precisely one year ago. Seacor Power was a lift boat used to transport men and materials to oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana. Vessels such as these are commonly contracted by the oil and gas industry as there is a high level of logistics involved with the extraction of natural resources and their distribution across the country. 

For this particular embarking, Talos Energy, a widely known oil and gas producer in the Gulf of Mexico, requested ship services to clean and oil well before its use. Seacor Power had a cargo of 19 crewmen and materials that would be needed to maintain the oil rig off Port Fourchon. Despite the urgency to man the rig, The National Weather Service (NWS) had issued several severe weather warnings throughout the course of the day – areas that were directly in the voyage path of Seacor Power. 

The conditions were so bad, in fact, that planes destined for Louis Armstrong New Orleans International and the Mobile Regional Airport in Alabama were diverted and eventually landed at neighboring airstrips. It would later be reported that The United States Coast Guard (USCG), at this very time, had never received the alerts from the NWS. They furthermore added that their internet connectivity was jeopardized by network services provided to them by Verizon Wireless. During the early afternoon of April 13th, 2021, not a single ship navigation system received any warning of potentially hazardous climate conditions on behalf of the U.S. Coast Guard. 

A Nautical Engulfment of Chaos

Under normal circumstances, ships in an area in which their safety is jeopardized by the presence of high winds or waves would be alerted and recommended to dock to avoid the endangerment of their crew. At around 3:40 p.m., the first emergency radio beacon from the vessel was triggered. The watch commander from Sector 8 of the USCG immediately made a call to the ship to check on the status of the incident. According to his account, he was informed that Seacor Power had not even left the dock. As other emergency beacons were triggered by other boats in the surrounding area, Seacor Power was asked to call them back as the Coast Guard directed their attention elsewhere. 

Despite the pandemonium of other vessels on the sea at the time, a ship was reported to have capsized half an hour after the initial call of the Power. It is now known that only 8 miles away from Port Fourchon, Seacor Power had capsized in rough seas and high winds that had been triggered by a “wake low.” This type of weather event can cause extremely high waves and over 80 mph winds that would prove catastrophic to a lift boat on the open sea. 

The capsizing of the boat is described in a harrowing account by survivor Dwayne Lewis. He recounts the scene as chaotic, with the floors and ceiling of the Power to have become the walls and vice versa. The experience of the six survivors was traumatic; they had barely escaped the capsized boat and drifted into open waters for hours before anyone came to their rescue. During the event, the other 13 crew members had become victims to the forces of nature.

However, not all family members of the victims thought the winds and rain were solely to blame. Seacor Marine, the company that ran the transportation services, Talos Energy itself, and even the vessel manufacturer, Samco, were met with wrongful death lawsuits by the surviving families of the crew members who perished in the accident. Two of the six surviving men also got behind the motion with legal action. 

How Wrongful Death Plays into Events Like These

These are seen in the public eye as pretty substantiated claims. La. Civ. Code § 2315.2 (2021) states that a wrongful death occurs when “a person dies due to the faults of another.” In this case, the corporations were involved with the transportation of the men to the oil rig. This can Furthermore be perpetrated by the wrongdoing by a corporation, more specifically in a negligence-based accident. As the victim is not able to bring their own case to court, this is brought forth by surviving family members who seek damages on behalf of the deceased individual. 

Under Louisiana law, many people are able to file a death lawsuit in certain circumstances. The first order is the deceased spouse or children. If they do not exist, the parents or parents of the victim are able to press charges. In the case that they are not available, the siblings and then the grandparents are able to take action in court. 

What Is at Stake in Louisiana

The damages received in a wrongful death lawsuit May include lost earnings and benefits, the value of household services that would be given if the person had not passed away, medical bills, and funeral expenses. Non-economic losses may include loss of care, companionship, emotional support, and survivors’ grief/anguish. 

In the case of the families of the victims of the Seacor Power incident and all other individuals hoping to press charges for wrongful death, one year is afforded as a statute of limitations, meaning a wrongful death claim is able to be made up to one year after the death in question. Fortunately, many firms are willing to take on the responsibility of pressing charges with the surviving family members in mind.