On June 1, 2021, in the aftermath of the April 13, 2021 SEACOR POWER disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, Richard Martin and Frank Lamothe of the New Orleans-based Lamothe Law Firm, LLC, filed a General Maritime Law Complaint for Damages on behalf of Dwayne Lewis against Seacor Marine, LLC. Seacor Liftboats, LLC, and Semco, LLC. Mr. Lewis is one of only six survivors among the nineteen crew members and contractors who were aboard the SECOR POWER when it capsized. He was being transported aboard SECOR POWER to a fixed platform in the vicinity of the main pass of the Mississippi River and was not a vessel crew member.
Mr. Lewis was sleeping in his bunk when the SEACOR POWER rolled over and suddenly turned his stateroom upside down. One of the vessel’s mates joined Mr. Lewis – whose stateroom was on the “high side” of the overturned vessel – and together they took turns frantically pounding a window with a fire extinguisher until it burst outward. The life jacket donned by Mr. Lewis had no light or beacon. Then Mr. Lewis, who could not swim and was kept away from water by his parents after his brother drowned, had to escape through the window aperture and enter the 12 foot seas pounding what little of the vessel remained above the surface.
After losing his grip on a rope tied to the vessel, Mr. Lewis drifted away, alone, into the stormy Gulf. Despite wearing a life jacket, he was constantly submerged by the waves and during the three and one-half to four hours before his rescue he was only a moment from drowning. During his ordeal, he prayed for God to save his life and told his deceased mother that he was not ready to join her in death.
This lawsuit, Lewis v. Seacor Marine, LLC, et al, No. 21-cv-1056, is pending before the Honorable Jane T. Milazzo, U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Louisiana, and the Honorable Janice Van Meerveld, U.S. Magistrate Judge for the Eastern District of Louisiana. Links to this Complaint and to other news articles are provided below.
As is the case in Maritime Law, the status of a plaintiff and the location where the incident occurs determines what law applies. Generally, surviving crew members have claims under a federal law called the Jones Act and can bring an additional claim under the General Maritime Law for an unseaworthy vessel. These claims are limited to the victim and do not include family members or punitive damages. Crew members whose lives were lost have their principal damage claims under the federal Death on the High Seas Act can be joined to a Jones Act claim providing for a jury.
Surviving contractors like Mr. Lewis have claims under the General Maritime Law of negligence which ordinarily allows money damage recovery for fear and fright, bodily injury, medical care, and economic losses. Under some circumstances, General Maritime Law damages can include exemplary or “punitive” damages. These claims are tried to a judge without a jury. Those contractors who lost their lives have claims under the Death on the High Seas Act only.
“Negligence” is conduct which fails to protect other people against an unreasonable risk of harm. It is a failure to observe that degree of care, precaution, and vigilance which the circumstances demand, the failure to observe the ordinary degree of care which people of ordinary prudence would use under the same circumstances.