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Oil platform injury justifies maritime workers comp benefits, panel rules

Posted On: Jan. 25, 2009 12:00 AM CST

NEW ORLEANS—A man injured while living and working on an oil production platform qualifies for workers compensation benefits designed for maritime employees even though most of his work was not for marine purposes, a U.S. federal appeals court has ruled.

The finding by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirms the ruling of an administrative law judge and benefits review panel that Terry Hudson is entitled to benefits under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act. Mr. Hudson was injured in 2001 by a saltwater pump explosion while working on the Saturday Island production platform and several connected facilities along the Louisiana coast.

He applied for benefits under the Longshore law, which covers land-based maritime employees injured on a site customarily used for maritime purposes, such as loading ships. Coastal Production Services Inc., Forest Oil Corp. and ACE American Insurance Co. contested his claim, arguing he didn't qualify for the benefits because he was injured while on the Saturday Island platform, which is used to store and separate oil and gas pumped from the ground, and also for living quarters, but not for maritime purposes. A nearby and connected barge serves the maritime purpose of loading cargo--oil, in this case--onto ships.

However, the administrative law judge, benefits review panel and the appeals court all ruled that the nearby barge and the Saturday Island platform are part of one "overall area" for the purposes of this law. To qualify for benefits under the statute, the employee must work on a site normally used--but not exclusively used--for maritime purposes.

The appeals court found that if even if the specific site of the injury is not used for loading cargo, the worker still qualifies for benefits if that location is associated with items used as part of the loading process. The law does not require "every square inch" of a location to be used for marine purposes for a worker to qualify for benefits, the court wrote.

"If it did, we would have a game of hopscotch," Circuit Judge Jacques L. Wiener Jr. wrote. "The bathrooms in a (marine location) would not be covered, nor would be pavement that, although clearly within the area, had not been walked on by stevedores loading and unloading a vessel."

In a dissenting opinion, Circuit Judge Harold R. DeMoss Jr. said the court should have divided the different functional areas of the facility into covered and uncovered areas.