Semien v. Parker Drilling Offshore USA LLC, CIVIL ACTION NO.: 6:14-cv-1087

CourtUnited States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Western District of Louisiana
Citation179 F.Supp.3d 687
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO.: 6:14-cv-1087
Parties Kirby Semien v. Parker Drilling Offshore USA LLC
Decision Date05 April 2016

179 F.Supp.3d 687

Kirby Semien
Parker Drilling Offshore USA LLC

CIVIL ACTION NO.: 6:14-cv-1087

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lafayette Division .

Signed April 5, 2016

179 F.Supp.3d 691

James P. Ryan, Morrow, Morrow, Ryan & Bassett, Opelousas, LA, for Kirby Semien.

Richard J. Hymel, Charles A. Mouton, Mahtook & LaFleur, Lafayette, LA, for Parker Drilling Offshore USA LLC.



I. Introduction

This matter involves claims brought by the plaintiff, Kirby Semien, against defendant, Parker Drilling Offshore USA, LLC ("Parker Drilling"), under the Jones Act and the general maritime law. At the time of his alleged injury, Mr. Semien was employed by Parker Drilling as a shaker and and alleges on May 22, 2014 he injured his right knee while working aboard the Inland Drilling Rig 54B, which was owned by Parker Drilling. Mr. Semien asserts a claim under the Jones Act, and under the general maritime law for unseaworthiness, and maintenance and cure, and designated this as an action brought under the admiralty within the meaning of Rule 9(h) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Trial of this matter was to the bench, commencing on March 7, 2016, with closing arguments heard on March 10, 2016. Jurisdiction in this matter is premised upon the admiralty law of the United States of America, 28 U.S.C. 1333(1)(Admiralty, Maritime and Prize Cases), the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. § 30104, and the general maritime law, and venue is proper in the Western District of Louisiana.

II. Procedural History

On June 3, 2014, Kirby Semien filed a Complaint in the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana against his former employer, Parker Drilling Offshore Corporation. By amended complaint filed on July 23, 2014 [Doc. 3], Mr. Semien amended his complaint to allege his claims against Parker Drilling Offshore USA, LLC. On September 16, 2015, Parker Drilling filed a motion for summary judgment seeking dismissal of certain claims for damages [Doc. 17] and a motion for summary judgment on liability. The damages motion was granted in part [Docs. 26 & 27], while the liability motion was denied [Docs. 32 & 33].

This matter proceeded to a bench trial on March 7, 20 16. All evidence has been taken and all arguments have been made to the Court and this Court now makes the following findings of fact, conclusion of law, and rules as follows.

III. Factual Background

Kirby Semien was working as a shakerhand on Rig 54B on the date of the accident. It was established the well was experiencing certain well control problems, which were being addressed and monitored. Prior to running the Bottom Hole Assembly ("BHA") in the well, 135 barrels of water were pumped down the annulus. As the BHA is run in the hole, a portion of the 135 barrels of water which had been added should at some point return through and to the trip tanks, if all is operating properly; Kirby Semien was assigned the task of monitoring the amount of liquid coming back into the trip tanks. This is a job that is performed on the shaker deck and under normal circumstances, would not require Kirby Semien to go to the bottom deck where his accident occurred.

There were two trip tanks on Rig 54B. Mr. Semien testified that on the morning

179 F.Supp.3d 692

of the accident, he was working on the shaker deck monitoring the tanks located above the bottom deck. Mr. Semien testified the first tank had filled and needed to be emptied before the second, also, filled. He testified that if the trip tanks were not emptied, they could overflow or the water and liquid could back up into the oil based mud tanks creating undesirable consequences. Mr. Semien testified he believed if the trip tanks overflowed, the overflow could result in an environmental spill of drilling fluid, or if they backed up the water could contaminate the oil based mud found in the mud tank s. It was Mr. Semien's responsibility to not only monitor the return in the tanks, but also, to manage those tanks. Thus, once the first of the two tanks was filled, Mr. Semien switched the flow to the second tank and attempted to pump the first. However, the pumps did not work. Mr. Semien then went to adjust the manifold, which, again, did not fix the problem. Mr. Semien, then, added another pump, and, yet again, the pumps did not work.

Mr. Semien explained that, normally, the fluid from the trip tanks can be dumped and/or drained by activation of the trip tank pumps, however, as both pumps malfunctioned, Mr. Semien testified the trip tanks would have to be emptied manually by way of two manual valves found on the bottom deck. The two manual dump valves are located 13'-14'1 above the floor of the bottom deck on Rig 54B and must be physically manipulated, "by hand". When Rig 54B was originally constructed, there was a permanently affixed ladder connected to the deck providing safe access to the manual dump valves. This permanently affixed ladder, also, had a "LadSafe" system which worked in concert with the ladder and harness allowing workers to attach their harness to the permanently affixed ladder and allowing the attached safety harness to run along the side of the ladder as employees moved up and down the ladder. Steve Ville join, the tool pusher, testified this fixed ladder was removed from the rig when it was refurbished; no evidence was provided why the fixed ladder was removed or why it was not replaced. Thus, Rig 54B was left with a known and necessary work area some 13'8' above floor level with no rig access. It was this area some 13' 8' above the floor that Mr. Semien or other Parker Drilling employees would have to access in order to manually dump the trip tanks.

Mr. Semien testified that after he recognized the trip tank pumps were not working, he called his direct supervisor, the driller—Fred Landry—and informed him of the situation. Mr. Landry told him to get the crane operator—Keyomi Palfrey—to go to the bottom deck with a roustabout and for Palfrey and the roustabout to open the dump valves manually. Mr. Semien, thereafter, called Mr. Palfrey, explained the situation and Palfrey agreed to come dump the tanks as requested in about ten minutes, after he completed a permit he was working on. Testimony was submitted the permit in question would take approximately five-ten minutes to complete, and Parker Drilling's post-accident investigation reflects Palfrey told Semien he would be there in about ten minutes. See: Plaintiff's Exhibit 16, p. 11, para. 6; p. 17. Palfrey was with the toolpusher, Steve Villejoin, when he received Mr. Semien's call and request for help, and Palfrey and the toolpusher discussed Mr. Semien's call once the call was completed. Notwithstanding telling Mr. Semien that he was coming in about ten minutes, Mr. Palfrey did not, in fact, go to help Mr. Semien as requested by Mr. Semien, or as he had promised. Rather, Palfrey and the toolpusher, Villejoin, went either to the pump

179 F.Supp.3d 693

room or the mud room—Palfrey could not recall which, but in any event, neither went to assist Mr. Semien—and Mr. Palfrey worked there for a time until he went to the bottom deck, some 45 minutes later, not to provide the requested help, but to find a tool needed for the other job. Consequently, Palfrey found Mr. Semien, lying on the deck by happenstance, some forty-five minutes later and in fact, never came to provide the promised help.

Mr. Semien testified he was concerned the trip tanks would overflow or back up and lead to undesirable consequences if the tank was not drained. Consequently, when Palfrey did not come, as promised, Mr. Semien attempted to call Palfrey a second time to find out why he had not come; Palfrey did not answer. Palfrey, whom this Court found to be a poor historian, could not remember if a second call was attempted, and testified he might not have heard it even if it had been made, as he was working in the pump or mud room by this time. Mr. Semien testified he felt pressured, therefore, consequently, he at some point thereafter, again, called Fred Landry, the driller, Mr. Semien's direct supervisor, and told him he was "going down" to the bottom deck, and Mr. Landry told him "to be safe". Mr. Landry, also, testified he could not remember whether or not Mr. Semien called a second time. This Court, however, finds it credible that Mr. Semien would have called his driller if only to tell the driller he was leaving his assigned station and task of monitoring and communicating the return coming into the tanks from the well, especially as testimony established Landry and Semien were in consistent contact concerning the return flowing into the tanks given the earlier well issue of losing drilling fluid into the well formation.

Consequently, after, again, calling the driller, M r. Semien went to the bottom deck to get all ready for Palfrey and his helper so as to expedite the dump of the tanks. Mr. Semien obtained a life vest, put it on, got the "elephant hose" needed to dump the tanks and ran it down to the barge for the dump, and set up for Palfrey. As Palfrey still had not arrived as promised, Mr. Semien testified he went to the floor access from...

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