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$4.2M Bench Trial Judgment - Open, but Not Obvious

Manson Gulf, LLC v. Modern American Recycling Service, Inc.,
15-3627 (USDC-EDLA 09/04/18);
on remand from
Manson Gulf, LLC v. Modern American Recycling Service, Inc.,
17-30007 (U.S. 5th Circuit 12/18/17)

Witness: “grating can play tricks on your eye... . " From four to eight feet away, the hole in the platform looked like solid floor.

Inspecting a salvaged oil production platform for "excess oil in pipes," James LaFleur fell through a hole 50 feet to his death on a barge deck below. His surviving spouse and children brought survival and wrongful death claims under the Longshore and Harborworkers' Compensation Act and state tort law.

Louisiana's federal Eastern District trial court granted defense summary judgments. Plaintiffs appealed the court's finding of fact supporting Manson Gulf's motion that the hole was an "open and obvious" danger that a "reasonably competent stevedore should anticipate encountering." See Scindia Steam Navigation Co. v. De Los Santos, 451 U.S. 156, 164 (1981). The U.S. Fifth Circuit reversed on finding contradictory evidence about the appearance of the hole.

On remand, the court recited that contrary testimony - quoted above - in findings of fact favoring plaintiff recovery. A September 4, 2018, judgment based on those findings awarded damages of $4,210,756.00, composed of the following:

  • Survival damages for conscious pain and suffering - $400,000;
  • Loss of earnings and earning capacity - $810,756.00;
  • Spouse's wrongful death damages - $1,500,000;
  • Each of three children's wrongful death damages (ages 14, 15 and 16 at time of death) - $500,000.

Testimony supporting survival damages suggested severe pain throughout "approximately ten to fifteen minutes" of consciousness. Compare McBride v. Estis Well Serv., L.L.C., 16-30481 (U.S. 5th Circuit 04/10/17), 853 F.3d 777.

Posted: Sept. 10, 2018