Becker v. Tidewater, Inc., 08-30183.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtBenavides
Citation581 F.3d 256
PartiesSeth A. BECKER, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. TIDEWATER, INC.; Twenty Grand Offshore, Inc.; Tidewater Marine, LLC; Pental Insurance Company Ltd.; Certain Underwriters At Lloyds Insurance Co., Defendants-Appellees, v. Baker Hughes, Inc.; Baker Oil Tools, Inc., a division of Baker Hughes Oilfield Operations, Inc., Defendants-Appellants.
Docket NumberNo. 08-30183.,08-30183.
Decision Date28 August 2009
581 F.3d 256
Seth A. BECKER, Plaintiff-Appellant,
TIDEWATER, INC.; Twenty Grand Offshore, Inc.; Tidewater Marine, LLC; Pental Insurance Company Ltd.; Certain Underwriters At Lloyds Insurance Co., Defendants-Appellees,
Baker Hughes, Inc.; Baker Oil Tools, Inc., a division of Baker Hughes Oilfield Operations, Inc., Defendants-Appellants.
No. 08-30183.
United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit.
August 28, 2009.

[581 F.3d 261]

Cliffe E. Laborde, III (argued), James D'Arensbourg Hollier, Laborde & Neuner, Lafayette, LA, for Defendants-Appellees.

Edwin G. Preis, Jr., Jennifer Elmer Michel (argued), Preis & Roy, Lafayette, LA, for Defendants-Appellants.

James Parkerson Roy, Jamie D. Parker, Domengeaux, Wright, Roy & Edwards, Lafayette, LA, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana.

Before JONES, Chief Judge, WIENER, and BENAVIDES, Circuit Judges.

BENAVIDES, Circuit Judge:

This is an appeal from a trial stemming from injuries sustained by Plaintiff-Appellant Seth Becker ("Seth") while he was aboard an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. After a bench trial, the district court held Defendant-Appellant Baker1 55% liable for Seth's injuries and Defendant-Appellee Tidewater2 45% liable for Seth's injuries. The court also held that Baker was obligated to fully indemnify Tidewater for any liability for its negligence resulting in an injury to Seth. Baker appeals the district court's denials of summary judgment as well as the court's final judgment on issues of apportionment of fault and indemnity. Seth also appeals the district court's apportionment of fault and its findings concerning gross negligence. Based on the following analysis, we affirm in part and reverse in part the judgment of the district court and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.


Seth was injured while working as a summer intern for Baker as part of the crew of the M/V REPUBLIC TIDE (the "REPUBLIC TIDE"), a boat outfitted for well-stimulation services, in June 1999. Baker was using the REPUBLIC TIDE pursuant to a time-charter contract with the boat's owner, Tidewater.

The injury occurred while the REPUBLIC TIDE's crew was performing well-stimulation services on the R&B FALCON/CLIFFS RIG 153 (the "rig"), an oil rig owned by Cliffs Drilling and operated by R&B Falcon (collectively, "Falcon") in the Gulf of Mexico. The job required the REPUBLIC TIDE's crew to unspool a coiled steel hose from the boat's stern, extend it to the rig, and attach it to the rig's wellhead. While the steel hose was extended, the REPUBLIC TIDE's movements caused the hose to whip across the rig's deck. To help keep the hose in place, Baker's employees ran it through a Baker-designed, Baker-constructed apparatus called the "blue shoe." The REPUBLIC TIDE's captains, Captain Givens and Captain Lachney, employees of Tidewater, also sought to keep the hose in place by minimizing the REPUBLIC TIDE's movements relative to the rig. Crew members tied off the boat's stern to the rig with two lines (one starboard and one port), and the

581 F.3d 262

captains used the boat's bow thruster to maintain position against the Gulf of Mexico's current. The crew kept the REPUBLIC TIDE's anchor raised because the anchor windlass had a hydraulic oil leak which was discovered by Tidewater when it pulled up to the rig on the day of the incident.

While Seth was aboard the rig, the REPUBLIC TIDE's bow thruster failed. This failure created an emergency because, without the thruster, the REPUBLIC TIDE could not maintain its bow's position against the current. The REPUBLIC TIDE's captain on duty, Captain Lachney, contacted the rig and reported that the thruster had failed. Moments later, the current caused the port-stern mooring line to break. The REPUBLIC TIDE, still connected by the starboard-stern mooring line and the (slack) steel hose, and still being pushed starboard, would collide with the oil rig without intervention.

Captain Lachney instructed Baker crew members aboard the boat to disconnect the steel hose from the reel assembly that attached the hose to the boat. The reel assembly contained a quick-release mechanism. The reel malfunctioned due to modifications made to the system and began to lock up. The quick disconnect button did not release the hose and the employees were unable to move the reel manually. Consequently, the crew was unable to disconnect the hose.

Captain Lachney again contacted the rig. He reported that the hose would need to be disconnected from the rig's wellhead, and Baker's supervisor aboard the rig received this message. The supervisor ordered three Baker employees, including Seth, to the rig's deck to disconnect the hose.

Meanwhile, the Gulf's current continued to push the REPUBLIC TIDE toward the rig. Captain Lachney, fearing impact with the rig, decided to break the starboard-stern mooring line. He did not, however, contact the rig before taking this action; Baker's crew members on the rig's deck were unaware that the steel hose was about to be pulled taut. Captain Lachney powered the boat's engines and pulled away from the rig.

Seth was standing in the bend of the steel hose when the REPUBLIC TIDE's movement snapped the hose taut, pinning Seth. The hose cut through Seth's legs, amputating one leg and nearly amputating the other. He lost between eight and nine pints of blood before being evacuated. Doctors later had to amputate the second leg below the knee. Seth, twenty-two years old at the time of the accident, now suffers from severe health problems which will require ongoing treatment, counseling, and medication for the remainder of his life.


Seth sued Baker, Tidewater, and Falcon under the Jones Act, the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act ("LHWCA"), and general maritime law. A jury trial was held in July 2001, concluding in a verdict finding Seth to be a Jones Act seaman and awarding him damage. The jury apportioned fault among the defendants, assigning each a percentage. On appeal, this court reversed the jury's finding and held Seth to be a longshoreman, set aside liability and damage findings, and remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings under the LHWCA. Becker v. Tidewater, Inc., 335 F.3d 376 (5th Cir.2003) ("Becker I").

On remand, the district court granted Seth leave to amend his complaint to request a bench trial for his remaining claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure

581 F.3d 263

9(h). Baker filed an interlocutory appeal challenging the district court's decision to hold a bench trial rather than a jury trial, which was accepted by this court. On appeal, the district court's ruling was affirmed, and the case was remanded a second time for a bench trial. Becker v. Tidewater, Inc., 405 F.3d 257 (5th Cir.2005) ("Becker II").

A limited second trial was held by the district court as an admiralty action, without a jury, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(h). Before the trial on remand, Baker and Seth entered into a Mary Carter agreement.3 Baker gave Seth $23.5 million dollars in exchange for an agreement to share any net recovery he may have against Tidewater on the basis of 75% to Baker and 25% to Seth. The district court denied all of Baker's motions for summary judgment that attempted to invalidate the reciprocal indemnity agreement. The court ultimately awarded Seth almost $37 million damages against Baker and Tidewater under the LHWCA. The court held that Baker, as time-charterer of the boat, was 55% liable for Seth's injuries and Tidewater, as owner of the boat, was 45% liable. Falcon was held free from fault and liability. The court held that under the reciprocal indemnity agreement in the contract between Baker and Tidewater, Baker was obligated to fully indemnify Tidewater for any liability for Seth's injuries. Baker and Seth timely appealed the judgment of the district court.


"The standard of review for a bench trial is well established: findings of fact are reviewed for clear error and legal issues are reviewed de novo." In re Mid-South Towing Co., 418 F.3d 526, 531 (5th Cir.2005); see also Otto Candies, L.L.C. v. Nippon Kaiji Kyokai Corp., 346 F.3d 530, 533 (5th Cir.2003). "A finding is clearly erroneous if it is without substantial evidence to support it, the court misinterpreted the effect of the evidence, or this court is convinced that the findings are against the preponderance of credible testimony." Bd. of Trs. New Orleans Employers Int'l Longshoremen's Ass'n v. Gabriel, Roeder, Smith & Co., 529 F.3d 506, 509 (5th Cir. 2008); Otto, 346 F.3d at 533 ("Under a clear error standard, this court will reverse only if, on the entire evidence, we are left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made." (citations omitted)). This court reviews the district court's denial of summary judgment de novo. Diamond Offshore Co. v. A&B Builders, Inc., 302 F.3d 531, 540 (5th Cir.2002).4

581 F.3d 264

The time-charter contract entered into by Tidewater and Baker contained reciprocal indemnity provisions, with Tidewater being responsible for injuries to Tidewater employees, and Baker being responsible for injuries to Baker employees. On appeal, Baker presents a number of arguments asserting that the district court erred in holding that Baker was obligated to indemnify Tidewater fully for any liability for Seth's injuries under this agreement. Based on the following analyses, we hold that the district court did not err in holding that the reciprocal indemnity agreement between Baker and Tidewater obligates Baker to indemnify Tidewater fully for Seth's injuries.


First, Baker appeals the district court's ruling that the reciprocal indemnity agreement entered into by Baker and Tidewater was valid under § 905 of the LHWCA. 33 U.S.C. § 905(b). Section 905(b) of the LHWCA provides that agreements for an employer to indemnify a vessel from injuries to a longshoreman...

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