Posted March 10, 2012. Pacific Ocean. San Diego, California.

Offshore Injury to Crew Member Was Caused By Use Of Potentially Deadly Chemical

When an offshore injury happens, getting help from an experienced team of Jones Act lawyers is crucial. In the following case, it was virtually lifesaving. The following case involved Avril Brock’s Jones Act claims for an offshore injury he suffered aboard a vessel owned by InterOil Seas Corporation. Brock served as a steward’s assistant in the housekeeping and galley department on S/T Seas Diego, a 700-foot oil tanker owned by InterOil.

One summer, while the ship was at sea, the chief steward attempted to control a roach problem by spraying Diazinon, an industrial strength pesticide, in small, enclosed, unventilated areas. This included the pantry, a storeroom and other nearby areas: the result was to be a near-fatal offshore injury. The chief steward didn’t dilute the Diazinon properly. On the morning after the spraying, crew members noticed a strong insecticide odor. The captain ordered several crew members, including Brock, to “clean up the excess” Diazinon. Brock participated in the cleanup for about five hours, without wearing inhalation protective gear or special equipment to protect his skin from contact with the insecticide. This resulted in exposure to Diazinon levels of up to 200 times what was considered safe for human exposure, especially in the confines of small areas.

After the cleanup, Brock complained of a headache, eye irritation, and a runny nose. The ship reached San Diego two days later, and Brock was (finally) sent to the San Diego General Hospital Emergency Room. At the hospital, emergency room personnel found Brock had myosis with pupil constriction, muscle twitching, and muscle weakness along with other symptoms. Brock’s blood tests revealed that he had depressed levels of an essential enzyme. The emergency room doctor testified at trial that on a scale of one to ten, with ten representing death, Brock had suffered an offshore injury of Diazinon exposure, “on a level of six to seven.” The examining physician later also testified that Brock had suffered from a specific offshore injury: Diazinon exposure.

Months after his offshore injury, Brock began to complain of memory defects, irritability, gastrointestinal problems, anxiousness, fatigue, indigestion, nausea, muscle pain and stiffness, leg cramps, dizziness, insomnia, high blood pressure, and black-out spells. At trial, Brock’s experts testified that his offshore injury had caused him to suffer from “delayed neurotoxicity” or “neuropathy.” Brock’s experts also testified that the results of the offshore injury were irreversible.

About ten months after his offshore injury, Brock sued InterOil for gross negligence under the Jones Act and unseaworthiness under general InterOil law. Based on the jury’s verdict, the trial court rendered judgment for Brock for $8,576,000 in actual damages due to his offshore injury, $1,000,000 in punitive damages, $1,000,000 in exemplary damages for failure to pay maintenance and cure, and $1,870,000 interest. The damages totaled about $12.5 million. InterOil filed motions to try and deny the extent of the offshore injury, and the trial court overruled all of InterOil’s motions. Eventually, InterOil claimed (unsuccessfully) that the court used the wrong standard for actual damages in this kind of offshore injury.

The record showed that during trial, Brock’s Jones Act lawyer offered the testimony of five expert medical doctors, four of whom had actually examined and treated Brock for his offshore injury. InterOil did not challenge the testimony of any of the five experts at trial. All five expert witnesses testified that Brock’s severe and lengthy offshore injury caused his prolonged neural damages. They expressed their opinions on causes, from reasonable medical probability to “without a doubt” regarding Diazinon as causing the offshore injury. In essence, all five experts testified that Brock’s prolonged exposure to excessive levels of Diazinon due to InterOil’s negligence caused the long-term effects of delayed neurotoxicity. InterOil presented three medical doctor experts, only one of whom had treated Brock. These three experts testified that Brock’s injuries were not a delayed effect of any offshore injury. But the jury clearly gave the employer’s experts little weight.

The jury answered “yes” to the question of whether InterOil’s negligence played any part, even the slightest, in the offshore injury or illness to Brock. The jury then found, based on the evidence, that $8,576,000 in actual damages would fairly and reasonably compensate Brock for injuries or illnesses.

An offshore injury needs special care to details, about what exactly happened, often hundreds of miles and days away from shore. This “urgency” is why Congress gives special rights to injured seaman, and experienced Jones Act lawyers have special tools to prove the causes of offshore injury.