Explosion on boat causes burns over seaman’s body

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Case Type(s): Maritime Accidents, Personal Injury

Type of Injury(ies): Burns Injury, Chemical Exposure And/Or Burns

Verdicts & Settlements:

$8 Million Dollar Settlement

Pipeline Firm To Pay Blast Claim: Boat’s Navigator To Get $8 Million

Reprinted From: Houston Chronicle, September 14, 1990 By: Kyle Pope, Houston Chronicle Natural Gas Pipeline Co. of America has agreed to pay $8 million to a Louisiana man injured in last year's fishing trawler explosion and fire in the Gulf of Mexico.The payment, negotiated between Illinois-based Natural Gas and attorneys for Francis M. Gough of Sulphur, La., is by far the largest monetary settlement yet to emerge from the October 1989 accident that killed 11 people and injured two others aboard the trawler Northumberland.While precise figures are not publicly available, attorneys on both sides estimate as many as 10 cases involving the Northumberland accident have been settled out of court since the first lawsuits were filed last year, most for $1 million or $2 million per case.The incident, the worst of 21 boat pipeline accidents reported from 1985 to early 1990, has sparked a renewed round of concern about the safety of the nation's pipeline system.In Washington, lawmakers are considering legislation that would require pipeline companies to inspect their lines in the Gulf of Mexico and to establish periodic maintenance programs. The proposed law is expected to pass the U.S. House of Representatives in the next week.The Northumberland, owned by a subsidiary of Houston-based Zapata Corp., hit an exposed underwater pipeline owned by Natural Gas, rupturing the line and setting off an explosion that destroyed the vessel.Gough, a navigator on the boat's deck, leaped from the vessel into the Gulf waters immediately after the explosion, his attorney said. By the time he surfaced for air, leaking gas and debris from the boat had ignited the water's surface, burning Gough over nearly 70 percent of his body.Natural Gas spokesman Ken Smith confirmed the settlement Thursday but declined to comment further. Gough could not be reached for comment.Jerry McKernan, Gough's attorney, said Thursday he now plans to pursue a much larger claim against Zapata, which last month announced plans to sell a majority stake in its offshore drilling rig fleet in an effort to avoid bankruptcy.The principal responsibility rests with Zapata," McKernan said. “They have a responsibility to keep their vessels out of very shallow water when there is a possibility of striking a pipeline. Zapata didn't inform its crews of the dangers they faced."The 16-inch pipeline struck by Zapata's boat was supposed to be buried beneath the ocean floor. But after 18 years of wear, including tides, waves and hurricanes, the line had edged above the ocean's floor, exposing it to the hull of the Northumberland.McKernan has filed a $50 million claim against Zapata in a federal court in Louisiana. Attorneys for other Northumberland victims also said Thursday that they plan to pursue claims against Zapata, its Zapata-Haynie Corp. subsidiary, and the parent company's insurance underwriters.Barney White, a Zapata spokesman, declined to discuss the case because it involves ongoing litigation against the company.Last year, Zapata filed a motion in federal court to limit its liability in the accident to the cost of the vessel. The move, based on well-tested statute in maritime law, also prohibited victims of the explosion from filing separate lawsuits against the company in state court.In March, the plaintiffs' attorneys will urge a federal court judge in Louisiana to lift Zapata's liability limit. If successful, that motion also would eliminate the prohibition against state court suits, exposing Zapata to dozens of claims by victims and their families.Zapata's case, though, may have been strengthened earlier this week when federal regulators blamed the Northumberland accident on Natural Gas., a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum.The National Transportation Safety Board said the company should have kept its pipeline buried. Zapata, which is now suing Natural Gas for $20 million, was not assessed blame for the incident in the safety board's report.