In the fall of 2001, our client worked for Diamond Offshore Co., Houston, as a deck coordinator aboard a jack-up drilling rig, Ocean Spur, in the Gulf of Mexico. He was fired from that job for "poor work performance" on October 31, 2001—one day after he suffered a serious workplace accident.
According to our client, one day before he was fired, he placed a stabilizer (a piece of metal used in the drilling pipe) in a work basket which was to be lifted by a crane. When the crane operator suddenly moved the crane, the stabilizer pinned his arm.
The injured deck coordinator hired Brian A. Beckcom to be his legal counsel. The lawsuit they filed against Diamond Offshore Co. claiming that the crane operator was negligent in pinning his arm, the Ocean Spur was unseaworthy, that Diamond failed to pay maintenance and cure under the Jones Act and general maritime law; and that Diamond had denied our client the back surgery he needed for his injuries.
Early in November, our client had gone to the emergency room, complaining of arm and shoulder pain. Although the diagnosis was muscle strain, our client found that his pain did not fade away over time.
In February 2002, he consulted an orthopedic doctor, and later went to a neurosurgeon. The neurosurgeon diagnosed a herniated spinal disc between the fourth and fifth lumber vertebrae, and he recommended surgery.
The defense team representing Diamond Offshore Co. disputed the extent of the injuries and the costs to treat them. A doctor hired by Diamond testified that surgery would not be needed, for instance, because our client had already reached his maximum medical improvement; the defense also claimed that the cost of back surgery would be 60 to 70 percent less than the amount our client demanded. Competing testimony from rehabilitation experts and an economist also disagreed on the amount of future wages that our client would lose.
Through its lawyers, Diamond Offshore Co. claimed it was not negligent. Our client had received several written reprimands over the previous month, and the defense asserted that our client was mostly at fault for the injury he suffered.
The jury did not agree. It found that Diamond was 90 percent negligent and that our client was only 10 percent responsible for the accident. The jurors also agreed that Diamond had failed to pay maintenance and cure, and that our client had not yet reached his maximum medical improvement. The final jury award was $738,164, plus $295,265 to pay attorney fees and $55,000 for expenses.
We believe that this was, at its time, the largest jury verdict in Texas in a non-operated back injury case since tort reform was implemented.