Thursday, May 13, 2010

Oil rig owner presents survivors of rig with form to waive rights

Survivors from the oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico were presented with forms to sign hours after the incident to waive their rights to seek any compensation for their injuries. The accident killed 11 of their co-workers and continues to spill oil into the Gulf.

The forms presented by Transocean officials were not statements of what the rig workers may have witnessed or experienced but that they were not a witness to the incident and were not injured. So much for trying to get to the bottom of what happened and taking care of the people whose lives were on the line.

Transocean LTD is the world’s largest offshore drilling contractor and owned the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that exploded on April 21.

TPM has this:

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.

There, they were presented with this one-page form (obtained and posted by NPR), with two sections for workers to initial:

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.'"
You can read the entire piece here.

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