Big cash on overseas rigs, but big risk, Croke lawyer says
Case of Newfoundlander shot and taken hostage in Nigeria a cautionary tale, according to his attorney
The Canadian Press
Posted: Sep 16, 2012 4:06 PM NT
Last Updated: Sep 16, 2012 4:25 PM NT
The legal fight facing a Newfoundland oil worker who was shot and taken hostage in Nigeria is a cautionary tale about the big risks that come with big money on overseas rigs, says his lawyer.
Bob Croke of Torbay is suing along with his former American co-worker James (Butch) Johnson for compensation after both were shot when militants boarded their rig in Nigeria on Nov. 8, 2010.
The men have filed claims in U.S. District Court in Louisiana that the ordeal has taken a long-term physical, emotional and financial toll. They are seeking damages that won't be defined until their cases, which are expected to be jointly heard in a jury trial next summer or fall, proceed.
Lawyer Timothy Young is representing both men and has advised Croke not to speak publicly about the case. He said workers who leave Canada and the U.S. should be aware of oil company tactics to deny legal responsibility when something goes wrong.
"They need to see who they're being paid by," Young said from New Orleans, where his firm specializes in offshore claims.
"They need to realize that even though they feel the relationship is entirely within North America, the company may think otherwise if there's an injury overseas.
'They need to realize that even though they feel the relationship is entirely within North America, the company may think otherwise if there's an injury overseas.'—lawyer Timothy Young
"It's not the same story as it would have been 20 years ago in the Gulf of Mexico. Now the companies are saying: 'Well, wait a minute. You were overseas. This is a whole different case and we can fight it different ways."'
Defendants in the Croke-Johnson case include PPI Technology Services, the Houston-based company that the workers say hired and supervised them; rig owner Transocean Ltd., the world's largest offshore drilling contractor based out of Switzerland; and Afren PLC, the London-based oil company that had contracted the rig.
Croke, a directional drilling supervisor, was shot in the left foot before he was hauled off the rig along with two French workers, two Americans and two Indonesians who spent 10 harrowing days held at camps in the sweltering jungle. They were freed in what Croke has described as a brokered deal involving foreign and local hostages that did not involve a ransom.
Johnson was airlifted off the rig after he was shot in the knee and spent more than five months in a London hospital, say court documents.
Defence not filed
Statements of defence have not yet been filed for the Croke claims, Young said.
But in the Johnson case, PPI Technology Services filed a motion to dismiss on the basis that Johnson was not, in fact, its employee.
Court documents outline the company's argument that it owed Johnson no "duty of care with respect to operations aboard the rig" because he was "an independent contractor" of PSL, an entity in Belize with which PPI Technology Services had contracted.
Johnson submitted to the court a long series of emails between himself and staff at PPI Technology Services during his hiring. At one point, he specifically asked about PSL because it appeared on a contract he was sent to sign.
U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance, in denying the company's motion to dismiss, noted that Johnson was told: "We just run all our people through Belize."
Vance concluded there is evidence "that PPI personnel directed and supervised Johnson, hired and fired him, and led him to believe that he was indeed a PPI employee (notwithstanding his contract with PSL)."
She also denied PPI's bid to dismiss the case on the basis that it should be heard in Nigeria.
Vance ruled that the company failed to demonstrate that an alternative forum in Nigeria is available to resolve the dispute.
"Indeed, PPI has indicated its refusal to submit to the jurisdiction of a Nigerian court," she said in the decision dated May 22.
A request for comment from PPI Technology Services was not answered. Transocean spokesman Guy Cantwell said the company does not comment on litigation.
And Afren spokesman Mark Antelme said in an email he would not comment specifically on legal action.
"We would, however, vigorously defend any suggestion that we had fallen short of our duty of care towards any of our employees," he said. "Health and safety is a priority across all Afren activities."
'No one, for any amount of money, would go overseas with the expectation that they could be injured, maimed or killed.'—lawyer Timothy Young
Young argues that both Croke and Johnson were negligently put in harm's way because of lax security.
"These companies absolutely know that they're at risk for this," he said of multiple hostage-takings and attacks on oil workers off the Nigerian coast.
"They brought this rig in way too close. They didn't have proper security and they're fortunate it wasn't much worse than the catastrophe that it was."
None of the claims involving the Croke or Johnson cases has been proven in court.
Young said he expects PPI to try the same tactic regarding Croke's employment status, along with what he describes as other stall strategies.
"I think it's atrocious that they would even suggest that ... these men would have to go back to Nigeria to file a suit. The money that these companies made off of these men did not stay in Nigeria."
Young has a quick response for those who say well paid offshore workers — six-figure salaries are not unusual — shouldn't take jobs overseas if they can't handle the risk.
"No one, for any amount of money, would go overseas with the expectation that they could be injured, maimed or killed."
Latest Nfld. & Labrador News Headlines
- Deer Lake catches break over flood warning
- The weather co-operated this weekend with plans to release massive amounts of water from the dam at Deer Lake Power. more »
- Wharnsby: Colin Greening rescues Senators
- Forward Colin Greening's dramatic double-overtime winner against the Pittsburgh Penguins Sunday night saved the Ottawa Senators from a big series hole, writes CBCSports.ca's Tim Wharnsby. more »
- Cop assaulted while investigating assault
- A Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officer who responded to a complaint of assault in downtown St. John's Sunday wound up getting struck himself. more »
- On Point | Labrador byelection results and NAPE poll
- Liberal Yvonne Jones was the winner of the Labrador byelection last week, ousting Conservative incumbent Peter Penashue. more »
Top News Headlines
- Dellen Millard's farm near location of unknown remains
- Police searching the farm of Dellen Millard, the 27-year-old charged with first-degree murder after the remains of Ancaster, Ont., man Tim Bosma were discovered, have found other remains near the property, but it's unclear if they are human or animal. more »
- Can the Senate fire a senator?
- An expert on parliamentary rules says the Senate has the power to turf a senator from the chamber, as long as a majority approves the expulsion, and as long as there is cause. more »
- Yahoo buys Tumblr blogging site for $1.1B
- Yahoo is buying online blogging forum Tumblr for $1.1 billion as CEO Marissa Mayer tries to rejuvenate an internet icon that had fallen behind the times. more »
- Harper chief of staff resigns amid Senate expense scandal
- Nigel Wright has resigned as Prime Minister Stephen Harper's chief of staff, following revelations he wrote a $90,000 cheque to repay living expenses claimed by Senator Mike Duffy. more »
- Central Newfoundland digs out from freak snowfall
- Multiple weekend thefts on Ropewalk Lane
- Arts council presents annual awards
- Gros Morne fracking issue causing significant reaction
- Composting project expands in Grand Bank
- Stay clear of flooding sites, mayor says
- Gushue | Why the loss of Ray Guy has meant so much
- Police investigating vehicle accident near Lewisporte
- Fracking may jeopardize Gros Morne UNESCO status