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Saturday, June 15, 2024 | Back issues
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Welder Who Saw His Friend Die Has No Case

HOUSTON (CN) - A federal judge has thrown out the emotional distress claims of a welder who saw his best friend and co-worker of 20 years plunge to his death from a drilling rig.

As co-workers and welders for Frank's Casing, Francis Barker Jr. and Thomas Broussard dismantled an oil pan from a Hercules Offshore drilling rig on the Outer Continental Shelf in the Gulf of Mexico on Jan. 27, 2008.

Broussard cut the straps that held the pan in place, sending it 100 feet to the ocean below. Barker and Broussard grabbed hold of a beam, but Broussard eventually lost his grip and fell into the water, hitting another beam on the way down.

Though Barker came out of the incident without any physical injuries, he says watching his friend die from the fall had such a traumatic impact on him that he later suffered a disabling heart attack and cerebral stroke. Barker sued Hall-Houston Exploration, two of its subsidiaries and the rig owner with which it contracted, Hercules Offshore, in Galveston County two years ago.

Later removed to the Southern District of Texas, a federal judge in Houston ruled that general maritime law did not apply to Barker's claims.

Barker asked the court to reconsider, but U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon refused on Wednesday and granted the drillers' motions for summary judgment.

Because Barker's employer, Frank's Casing, was an independent contractor on the rig, Hall-Houston argued that Chapter 95 of the Texas Civil Practices and Remedies Code barred Barker's negligence claims against them.

"Chapter 95, passed in 1996 as part of the Texas' tort reform effort, provided greater protection for property owners," Harmon wrote, adding that "the three elements of Chapter 95 are control, actual knowledge and failure to warn."

Harmon accepted the Hall-Houston's arguments, including its assertion that Texas does not allow for relief from negligent infliction of emotional distress and that Barker does not qualify for bystander recovery.

Harmon issued final judgment in favor of Hall-Houston and Hercules, ordering Barker to cover all court costs.

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