Faced with mounting personal injury claims, Transocean Offshore Deepwater Drilling Inc. is pushing hard for survivors of the Deepwater Horizon disaster to submit to physical and mental exams before their cases can be heard in court. The drilling giant, who owned the rig, has preselected doctors and scheduled appointments for 15 of its former employees who say they sustained psychological and physical injuries from the April 20, 2010 explosion that killed 11 members of the 126-person crew.
The motion takes a brusque tone with the employees’ refusal thus far to comply with previous urgings from Transocean.“It is Claimants who have asserted personal injury claims and have, therefore, placed their medical conditions at issue, yet it is Claimants who are now preventing Transocean from obtaining the discovery to which it is entitled,” reads the filing.
Transocean demands that, “to assess the existence and extent of their injuries, if any, as a result of the Incident,” each of the survivors go to four appointments, two with psychiatrist Dr. John W. Thompson and two with neuropsychologist Dr. Kevin W. Greve, at prescheduled times and dates. Stephen Bertone, the rig’s chief engineer, has a fifth appointment scheduled with an orthopedic doctor in response to his claim of needing of back and neck surgery.
Bertone made headlines as the trial opened in 2010 by saying the rig had been experiencing mechanical failures for months before the explosion. He told the court that the rig’s propeller system had been “having problems” for eight months, and that the computer station where the rig’s driller sits had temporarily lost electrical power days before the blowout, according to the LA Times.
Also named in this motion are Jason Cooley and Andrea Fleytas, survivors who were both cited in the 854-page report Transocean released this June, which placed the blame squarely on BP for a “succession of interrelated well design, construction and temporary abandonment decisions” leading to the failure of the well. They were footnoted (10, 11, 12, 14, 21, 35, 46, 68, 85) as providing the timeline of the emergency response that day on the rig, as well as the survivor count and death toll cited in the report.
All this raises questions about the controversial waiver obtained by NPR last year, which survivors say the company told them to sign, stating they had not been injured and that they had no first-hand knowledge of what happened. Transocean denied that the workers were under any pressure to sign the form, and it has not been mentioned in these legal proceedings thus far.
Rig worker Chris Choy told the PBS NewsHour last year that the waiver “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.”
Tony Buzbee, a Houston attorney representing some of the claimants, told TPM last year that these type of forms can potentially be 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.”
The claimants have so far refused to submit to the doctor’s visits, as did seven other former employees when Transocean filed a similar motion two weeks ago, in an attempt to compel them to supply their medical records and see the same three doctors. According to the Louisiana Record, U.S. magistrate judge on the case Sally Shushan urged the claimants’ lawyer via email to set the appointments, and received no response. The seven former Transocean employees then submitted a fiery response, calling the request harassment and asserting the “rank bias” of one of the preselected doctors, orthopedist Larry Likover. Their cases have apparently recently been settled and the District Court judge rejected the request last week.
Zoë Schlanger is Frontpage Editor at TPM. Zoë was a TPM intern in 2011, and prior to returning here she was editor in chief of NYU Local, the alternative independent student news site at NYU. Zoë has interned at places like the Nation, InsideClimate News, The Rachel Maddow Show and Gothamist. She can be reached at email@example.com.