An oil platform on Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana exploded on Sunday night injuring seven workers and resulting in the disappearance of 44-year-old Timothy Morrison of Katy, Texas. US Coast Guard conducted a search for the missing worker for close to 24 hours until announcing Monday night that the search would be suspended. Per officials, the platform is a natural gas storage location that feeds from other nearby rigs and is located approximately a mile and a half from the Kenner Boat Launch in Jefferson Parish and is owned by Clovelly Oil Co.
According to preliminary investigations, it appears that cleaning chemicals ignited on the surface of the oil rig platform leading to the explosion. A cause of the blast has not yet been identified. Arson investigators are expected to determine the cause once the fire has been extinguished. Nearby residents described the sound of the explosion as a “sonic boom” coming from the lake.
Eight workers were aboard the platform at the time of the explosion. Seven were rescued and taken to hospitals with blast-type injuries and burns. Four of the workers have since been discharged. We extend our sincerest condolences to Mr. Morrison’s family and loved ones and wish all survivors involved a speedy recovery.
The law applicable to these type of incidents is particularly complex and highly dependent on the type of platform involved, whether fixed or floating. If the platform is a floating platform found to be a “vessel,” an injured worker may be considered a Jones Act seaman and thus entitled to damages for medical costs, physical pain, mental anguish, loss of earning capacity, etc. Notably, practically any type of equipment that can be used for transportation over water qualifies as a “vessel.” See Stewart v. Dutra Construction Co., 543 U.S. 481 (2005). In contrast, if it is determined that the platform was a fixed offshore platform, the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA or OCS Lands Act) makes the law of the adjacent state applicable as surrogate federal law and the worker will not be allowed to bring the usual seaman claims unless he is independently associated with a vessel.