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No Resolution in Suit Over Lifeboat Tragedy

HOUSTON (CN) - A federal judge dismissed indemnification claims against a lifeboat equipment maker that had supplied an oil-drilling ship before it lost two crewmembers in a botched exercise.

A lifeboat that Diamond Offshore Co. bought for the Ocean Ambassador failed in May 2010 while the mobile offshore-drilling unit was conducting a drill off the coast of Brazil.

Diamond says that the hook used to secure the lifeboat to the ship opened, causing the lifeboat to fall into the water. Two crewmembers died in the accident, and two more were injured.

Diamond bought the Triple 5 lifeboat hooks from Survival Systems International, which allegedly promised that the weight of the lifeboats would keep the hooks closed as they held the boats in place.

Survival Systems claims that reports on the accident from the Brazilian Maritime Authority and the Brazilian Navy "exonerated the Triple5 hooks as the cause of the accident."

After settling with the victims for $2 million, Diamond filed a federal complaint against Survival Systems.

Though Diamond claimed that it had not sought common-law indemnity from Survival Systems, U.S. District Judge Gray Miller said that the contractor's "disguised claim" amounts to just that and must be dismissed.

Though Diamond did not overtly make the claim in its filings, it said Survival Systems should reimburse the amount of the victims' settlements.

The 13-page order rejects this maneuver, but it assured the parties that "common-law indemnity does still exist in Texas."

"The circumstances under which it is available are extremely limited," Miller wrote, adding that none of the exceptions seem to apply to Diamond's claims.

"SSI's motion to dismiss Diamond's common-law indemnity claim - a clam that has not been asserted - is granted," the Jan. 26 decision states, abbreviating the name of Survival Systems.

"To the extent Diamond's claim for damages associated with its settlement of the death and personal injury claims may be construed as a claim for common law indemnity, the court reserves ruling until that issue has been more fully briefed or developed at trial," Miller added.

Diamond meanwhile persuaded the court to dismiss counterclaims for defamation under California, Texas, Louisiana and maritime law.

Survival Systems had said that a Diamond safety notice, or "flash alert," that went out after the lifeboat accident contained defamatory information.

Miller disagreed, stating that "the flash alert is not capable of defamatory meaning.

"First, the flash alert merely reports on a condition that was discovered on certain lifeboats, documents this condition with photographs, and provides instructions for monitoring the lifeboats, handles, and hooks," he wrote. "It does not provide false or misleading information. Second, while the flash alert does state that the 'underlying and root causes of the incident will follow pending a formal incident investigation,' and the court must take SSI's allegation that Diamond did not follow up as true, the flash alert does not provide a timeframe for the follow up. It merely states that it would 'follow pending a formal investigation.' The Brazilian authorities concluded their investigation, but Diamond obviously has not determined that the Brazilian investigation served to 'exonerate the Triple5 hooks,' or it would not have filed this lawsuit. Moreover, the statement that Diamond would follow up is not defamatory on its face - it has nothing to do with SSI." (Emphasis in original.)

Citing Diamond's "incomplete" briefing, Miller refused to dismiss the Survival System's additional counterclaims.

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