Thompson v. Offshore Co., Civ. A. No. 74-H-1632.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Texas
Writing for the CourtCARL O. BUE, Jr.
Citation440 F. Supp. 752
PartiesEvelyn Rhonda THOMPSON et al., Plaintiffs, v. The OFFSHORE COMPANY et al., Defendants.
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 74-H-1632.
Decision Date07 July 1977

440 F. Supp. 752

Evelyn Rhonda THOMPSON et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
The OFFSHORE COMPANY et al., Defendants.

Civ. A. No. 74-H-1632.

United States District Court, S. D. Texas, Houston Division.

July 7, 1977.


440 F. Supp. 753
COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED
440 F. Supp. 754
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440 F. Supp. 755
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440 F. Supp. 756
Ira Watrous, Watrous & Conner, Inc., Houston, Tex., Garnet E. Norwood, DeQueen, Ark., for plaintiffs

Gus A. Schill, Jr., Royston, Rayzor, Vickery & Williams, Houston, Tex., for defendants.

FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

I. STATEMENT OF CASE

CARL O. BUE, Jr., District Judge.

On the evening of October 8, 1974, the No. 4 leg of the Drilling Rig GEMINI suddenly gave way in the Gulf of Suez, thereby tilting the drilling platform and causing nineteen men and the approximate 400 ton drilling rig equipment package ("rig package") within which they were working to slide off the platform into the Gulf 25 feet below. Eighteen of the nineteen men aboard died, including four American citizens. This action is brought by the survivors of the four American decedents to recover the damages sustained as a result of their deaths. The defendants have stipulated liability.

The cause proceeded to trial before the Court on the issue of damages and after hearing testimony of witnesses, considering the exhibits and depositions offered into evidence and hearing the arguments of counsel, the Court now makes and enters its findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 52.

II. FINDINGS OF FACT

1. Plaintiffs are citizens of the United States of America. Defendant Offshore International, S.A., is a Panamanian corporation and a wholly-owned subsidiary of defendant The Offshore Company, a Delaware corporation.

A. The Accident

2. The four Americans working aboard the Drilling Rig GEMINI on the evening of October 8, 1974, were John Hayes, Troy Eaton, Edwin Jones and Larry Reel. It was dark outside. The evidence establishes that the events culminating in their deaths occurred suddenly. According to Arnold Feller, who as the Senior Field Superintendent of the GEMINI was aboard the TENDER 21, a structure containing living quarters adjacent to the drilling platform, the rig package, consisting of pipe, girders from the derrick and other structures, tore loose from its position on the platform and slid off the edge and into the ocean below within eight to ten seconds of the No. 4 leg's initial collapse.

3. An Egyptian employee had just walked from the platform to the adjacent TENDER 21 to get water. Although he witnessed the casualty, no evidence has been introduced that he observed or heard any of the men in the water below following the platform's capsize. All men on the TENDER 21 immediately joined in a search from life rafts for any survivors in the water. See Plaintiffs' Exhibits 23, 24 and 28. Other vessels and helicopters also joined in the search. One Egyptian employee was pulled from the water. None of the other 18 men were located on this initial search effort, which covered several hours.

4. The drilling platform itself slowly collapsed and drifted with the prevailing three knot current for approximately four miles over the next four hours until being recovered. Given an approximate wind of five miles per hour, Mr. Feller estimated that the ocean in the vicinity of the accident consisted of two-foot waves at six-second intervals.

5. The bodies of John Hayes, Troy Eaton and Edwin Jones were never found, and their exact cause of death is therefore unknown. An autopsy indicates that Larry Reel, whose body was recovered, died of asphyxia caused by drowning. See Plaintiffs' Exhibit 3.

440 F. Supp. 757

6. Dr. Joseph Jachimczyk, Chief Medical Examiner for Harris County, Texas, and expert in the field of forensic pathology, testified that death by drowning is not immediate and that men possessing the physical capabilities of these four decedents would survive for some time in the water before drowning, if that were the cause of death.

7. It is not known whether any of the four decedents consciously survived the fall into the water or whether the impact of their fall, coupled with the fall of the approximate 400 ton rig package which they were aboard, rendered them unconscious upon impact. Thus, there is no evidence of a struggle for life on the part of any of the four decedents.

B. The Four Decedents and Their Survivors

1. John Hayes

8. At the time that he was killed on October 8, 1974, John Hayes was ten days short of his 52nd birthday, with a life expectancy of 21.8 years and a work life expectancy of 13.3 years. See Defendants' Exhibits 1 and 2. He was survived by two children: Evelyn Rhonda Hayes Thompson, age 25 at the time of his death, and Mark Hayes, 17 years of age at that time. Hayes was divorced in 1966, his son Mark thereafter lived with the former Mrs. Hayes until joining the Navy in November, 1974, and his daughter Rhonda had been married since 1968.

9. John Hayes was first employed by the defendants in 1968 and had worked overseas from 1968 until his death. Rhonda Thompson testified that Hayes would visit her and her brother one to two weeks every two years and that he wrote her twice a month. Neither child visited Hayes while he was employed outside the United States.

10. Because his daughter had been married since 1968, Hayes did not provide any periodic support for her, but did make monetary gifts to her approximating $1,000.00 each year. The credible evidence further establishes that Hayes provided $200.00 monthly support for Mark, or $2,400.00 annually, see Defendants' Exhibit 18, and more likely than not would have continued such payments until Mark reached majority. Hayes also bought his son a car during 1974. Hayes did not list Mark as a dependent for income tax purposes. See Defendants' Exhibit 13.

11. Hayes was employed as a toolpusher at an annual salary in 1974 of $28,800.00, including seniority, overseas service bonus and an overseas cost-of-living allowance. Pay records reflect the following annual earnings from 1969 through 1973:

 Year Earnings
                 1969 $18,743.87
                 1970 14,219.35
                 1971 21,176.29
                 1972 17,451.23
                 1973 24,598.77
                

See Defendants' Exhibit 6. At the time of death, Hayes' gross estate was valued at $17,766.68, all but $125.00 of which represented cash savings in a bank account. See Defendants' Exhibit 26. His net estate of $14,000.00 was divided evenly between his two children.

12. Considering his age, his prior earnings record since 1968 and the testimony of Dr. John Allen, an economics teacher at Texas A & M University, and Mr. Noah Mead, Director of Personnel, Training and Safety for defendant The Offshore Company, the Court finds that Hayes' earnings over the remainder of his 13.3 work life expectancy, excluding increases attributable to inflation, would approximate $30,000.00 yearly. Given the $14,000.00 net value of his estate upon death, as compared to his annual earnings to that date, and recognizing that any comparable savings amassed up to retirement would be significantly depleted by Hayes for living expenses during a minimum retirement period of 8.5 years, the Court finds, based on this record and the lack of evidence as to any retirement benefits available to the decedent, that his inheritable estate at death, in addition to the $14,000.00 previously distributed to his survivors, would have been $30,000.00. Thus, each child would have an inheritance expectancy, in addition to the

440 F. Supp. 758
$7,000.00 previously received, of $15,000.00. Such a sum, discounted to present value at 5 percent in accordance with Hayes' life expectancy of approximately 22 years, approximates $5,000.00

13. Mark Hayes is entitled to recover for loss of support at $200.00 per month for a four-year period. Discounted at 5 percent for future payments, this sum equals approximately $10,000.00. The Court further awards Mark Hayes $2,000.00 for loss of nurture.

In view of evidence of monetary gifts made by Hayes to his children, Rhonda Thompson and Mark Hayes each are awarded after discount at 5 percent the sum of $10,000.00 of this pecuniary loss.

14. For loss of their father's society, and taking all pertinent factors into account, Rhonda Thompson and Mark Hayes each are entitled to recover $15,000.00.

2. Troy Eaton

15. At the time of his death, Troy Eaton was 40 years of age with a life expectancy of 31.5 years and a work life expectancy of 23 years. See Plaintiffs' Exhibit 21. He was survived by his wife, Mrs. Louzelle Eaton, age 46 with a life expectancy of 32.8 years, see Defendants' Exhibit 1, and four children by a prior marriage: Johnnie June, 20; Ricky, 18; Drinda, 15; and Mandie, 9.

16. Troy Eaton's prior marriage to Thelma Louise Eaton ended in divorce in January, 1971, and he married Louzelle Eaton in May, 1971. Eaton had been employed overseas since 1968 and following his marriage to Mrs. Eaton in May, 1971, he returned to the Middle East. Mrs. Eaton thereafter joined him in Malta, and they remained abroad until December, 1972, when Mrs. Eaton returned to Wichita Falls, Texas. Eaton visited his wife in March, 1973, and he returned to the United States from overseas assignment during June of that year.

He and Mrs. Eaton worked and lived together in Wichita Falls until February, 1974, at which time Eaton entered into defendants' employ as a toolpusher overseas. The day prior to his departure, he and Mrs. Eaton signed an earnest money contract for the purchase of a 270 acre wheat farm. Mrs. Eaton visited the decedent in Cairo for three or four days during July, 1974. She testified that the purpose of the visit was to verify the monthly salary to which Eaton was entitled because the monthly checks she had received since February, 1974, were lower than what she had contemplated.

17. Following the divorce of their parents in 1971, Eaton's four children lived with their maternal grandparents. Johnnie...

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