When rescued workers were brought ashore following the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig last month, officials with drilling giant Transocean presented them with forms stating they had not been injured and that they had no first-hand knowledge of what happened. Lawyers for the workers are now crying foul about what they say is an all too common industry practice to impeach workers’ credibility in future legal proceedings.
Some workers are saying they were coerced into signing the form, a charge Transocean denies. But the episode is reminiscent of reports that BP presented Alabama fishermen with contracts that included a no-sue clause in exchange for $5,000.
The rig exploded April 20, killing 11 members of the 126-person crew. When the survivors finally came ashore on a rescue boat at Port Fourchon, Louisiana — 27 hours after the accident, according to Transocean — they were brought to the Crowne Plaza Hotel outside the New Orleans airport.
I was not a witness to the incident requiring the evacuation and have no first hand or personal knowledge regarding the incident.
I was not injured as a result of the incident of evacuation.
Rig worker Chris Choy, 23, told the PBS NewsHour: “It shouldn’t count, because I had been up for almost 40 hours, and just gone through hell. And they want to throw papers in my face for me to sign to take them, you know, out of their responsibility.”
In an interview with TPMmuckraker, Tony Buzbee, a Houston attorney representing 10 of the rig workers, who has also sued BP and Transocean after previous accidents, said that such forms are quite common after “mass casualty” accidents on land or at sea. He said the statements can come back to haunt workers during a deposition or at trial.
“It not only protects them against that individual worker, but it might protect them against that worker being a witness for someone else,” Buzbee says.
“It’s used in several ways: number one, if the worker later is called as a witness to say, ‘Yes, I saw Joe Blow fall down the stairs.’ Then this statement is thrown in his face,” says Buzbee. “Later if the guy’s neck begins to hurt and he seeks treatment, they stick the statement in his face and say, ‘Well you told us on the day of the incident you weren’t hurt.’”
“Upon arriving at the hotel, crew members were offered the opportunity to meet with qualified medical professionals, to retire to private rooms where they could eat, shower and sleep, or go home,” the statements says. “Only then did Transocean and its representatives present crew members with a standard one-page document that asked them to describe where they were at the time of the incident, what they were doing, and to affirm, if true, that they were not a witness and/or that they were not injured. They were free to complete the form at their leisure, or not at all. Some crew members even took the forms home and returned them more than seven days after the incident.”
Buzbee fires back that while there may be a few outliers, most of the crew probably signed the forms immediately. He notes that some of his clients are intensely loyal to the company after years on the job, particularly since they often make salaries far above what is typical for their education level.
“When I encourage my employees to do something, guess what? They do it. These are subordinates,” he says. “It’s very easy for Transocean to get them to sign something like that, especially when all they’re thinking about is getting back to their families.”
And NPR reports that the company is already leveraging the statements to its advantage:
Documents show those initials now are being used against the survivors as they file lawsuits seeking payment for emotional distress and other claims. [Houston Attorney Steven] Gordon says “When we were hired by one of the survivors, we gave notice to Transocean’s lawyers. And the immediate response was, ‘Wow, we’re surprised. Here’s a statement that says he’s not hurt.’”
Late Update: It turns out a Democratic congressman grilled Transocean CEO Steven Newman on this very issue at a hearing today — check it out here.
Here’s Choy, the rig worker, talking to PBS:
And here’s Transocean’s full statement:
Transocean Ltd. Issues Statement of Clarification
ZUG, SWITZERLAND, May 11, 2010 (MARKETWIRE via COMTEX) —In response to several inaccurate reports that detail Transocean’s (NYSE: RIG) (SIX: RIGN) treatment of crew members immediately following the April 20, 2010 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon, including erroneous allegations that crew members were asked to sign “waivers,” the Company would like to clarify the series of events that transpired that evening and the days after the incident.
— U.S. Coast Guard, as on-scene incident command, not Transocean, in
control of rescue vessel: All decisions aboard the rescue boat, the
Damon Bankston, were made solely by the Coast Guard and all efforts to
transport crew members from the rig to shore were coordinated by the
Coast Guard according to standard maritime procedures. The Company’s
immediate concern was to account for all those aboard the rig and to
search for those 11 men who were ultimately determined lost. All
decisions aboard the rescue boat were made solely by the Coast Guard,
including the length of time crew members were kept at sea, the final
destination port and the decision not to allow them use of the
satellite phones aboard the boat. Those crew members who were
critically injured were immediately transported by Medevac to the
appropriate medical facilities. All actions taken by the Coast Guard
were consistent with those taken during other emergency actions at
— Transocean did not present incident response forms when crew members
arrived at shore: The rescue ship arrived at Port Fourchon
approximately 27 hours after the incident. Contrary to several
erroneous reports, there was no distribution of any incident response
forms on behalf of Transocean to the crew members at that time. Upon
arrival at Port Fourchon, crew members were given an opportunity to
leave, however, were encouraged to accept transportation to the Crowne
Plaza Hotel in Kenner, Louisiana.
— Crew members were offered medical care, rooms and opportunity to go
home upon arrival at hotel: The Crowne Plaza Hotel was used as a
central location for the crew members and their families with the goal
of meeting all of their personal and medical needs and of obtaining as
much information about the incident as possible. Upon arriving at the
hotel, crew members were offered the opportunity to meet with
qualified medical professionals, to retire to private rooms where they
could eat, shower and sleep, or go home. Only then did Transocean and
its representatives present crew members with a standard one-page
document that asked them to describe where they were at the time of
the incident, what they were doing, and to affirm, if true, that they
were not a witness and/or that they were not injured. They were free
to complete the form at their leisure, or not at all. Some crew
members even took the forms home and returned them more than seven
days after the incident.
“Transocean’s first commitment has always been and will continue to be to the safety and well-being of our people,” said Steven L. Newman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Transocean. “All actions and decisions taken by our Company representatives, as well as those by the U.S. Coast Guard, on the evening of the incident and throughout the days following, were made with a focus on meeting the personal and medical needs of all those aboard the Deepwater Horizon.”