Law Offices of Charles D. Naylor Takes Case to U.S. Supreme Court and Wins Battle for Offshore Oil Workers' Compensation Rights

U.S. Supreme Court Issues Unanimous Decision Regarding the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA)

Los Angeles, CA - The Law Offices of Charles D. Naylor is proud to announce that today, the United States Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision (U.S. Supreme Court, No. 10–507, Pacific Operators Offshore L.L.P. v. Valladolid) providing for fair workers compensation benefits to offshore oil workers, regardless of where the accident causing their injury or death occurs. The Law Offices of Charles D. Naylor, a Los Angeles-based maritime personal injury firm (http://www.NaylorLaw.com), represents Luisa Valladolid and brought the case to the Supreme Court along with esteemed co-counsel. Oral arguments were presented to the justices in October 2011.

Offshore oil workers, on platforms located at least three miles offshore, are covered by the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA). The OCSLA is an extension of the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA), a federal law that provides compensation for the disability or death of maritime workers as the result of an injury occurring on “navigable waters” of the United States, at marine terminals, ship yards or on “adjacent areas” used for loading or unloading of ships, ship construction or repair.

The Supreme Court was asked to resolve a dispute about where an injury can occur for a worker to be eligible for benefits under OCSLA – whether a worker must be injured while actually working on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) – or – whether an OCS worker is eligible for OCSLA benefits regardless of where the injury happened; so long as the injury or death occurs in the regular course of his or her OCS employment and “as the result of operations conducted on the outer Continental Shelf.” Three U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals have offered different interpretations of the law.

“With the dispute amongst the Courts of Appeals, every day that offshore oil workers report for duty, they are gambling with their own welfare and the welfare of their families,” said Charles D. Naylor, of the Law Offices of Charles D. Naylor. “Offshore oil workers perform in a very dangerous environment. When things go wrong, such as the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon in 2010, people are often seriously injured or killed. This is the risk they take, and they should have a reliable workers’ compensation package with benefits that value the dangerous nature of the job and the time that it requires away from home and family.”

In May 2010, the Law Offices of Charles D. Naylor, representing the widow of offshore oil worker Juan Valladolid (v-EYE-AH-doh-leed) along with Joshua T. Gillelan II, brought the case Valladolid v. Pacific Operators Offshore L.L.P. to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Mr. Valladolid spent 98% of his work time as a roustabout on an offshore drilling platform located on the OCS, more than three miles off the coast of Santa Barbara, California. Occasionally he would be assigned to work ashore at his employers shore side facility at La Conchita. On June 6, 2004, he was crushed by a forklift and killed in an accident at his employers La Conchita facility. Because Mr. Valladolid was not injured while actually working on the OCS, his employer is argued that it should not have to pay OCSLA death benefits to his family.

“The fact that Mr. Valladolid was an outer continental shelf worker, but that the injury causing his death occurred at his employer’s shore side facility, set the case on a course for the Supreme Court,” said Naylor. 

Previously, in similar but unrelated cases, the 3rd and 5th Circuit Courts of Appeals made conflicting rulings about the availability of OCSLA benefits to OCS workers. The 3rd Circuit ruled that OCLSA benefits extended to all injuries that would not have occurred “but for” operations on the OCS, no matter where the injury occurred. Later, the 5th Circuit ruled that a worker must be injured on the outer continental shelf itself (i.e. at least 3 miles off shore) to be eligible for OCSLA benefits.

However, in case of Valladolid v. Pacific Operators Offshore L.L.P., the 9th Circuit took a different course. It held that the OCLSA applies to OCS workers regardless of the location of the injury, so long as the work being performed at the time of the injury directly furthered operations on the outer continental shelf and occurred in the regular course of those operations. Pacific Operators filed for appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which granted cert in early 2011.

“There are distinct problems with the 3rd and 5th Circuit’s interpretations of the law,” said Naylor. “The 3rd Circuit’s ruling is very broad and could result in covering workers who have never seen an offshore platform; for example, an accountant employed by an oil company whose work is entirely performed at the company headquarters in Newark. The 5th Circuit’s ruling creates a problem where workers can too easily slip in and out of coverage – for example – while in transit to and from the offshore rig when many injuries occur.”

In its unanimous decision today, the Supreme Court upheld the 9th Circuit decision that “the OCSLA extends coverage to an employee who can establish a substantial nexus between his injury and extractive operations.” 

“This is a great day for offshore oil workers and their families” Naylor said. “These workers face unusual hazards in their work, and this decision extends benefits under the OCSLA to many who would not have been covered before.”

The team of attorneys presenting to the court included: Charles D. Naylor and Timothy K. Sprinkles of the Law Offices of Charles D. Naylor; David C. Frederick (Counsel of Record), Gregory C. Rapawy, Beverly C. Moore of Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans & Figel; Joshua T. Gillelan II of the Longshore Claimants’ National Law Center; Michael F. Sturley; Lynn E. Blais; and Erin Glen Busby.

About Law Offices of Charles D. Naylor
Since 1975, the Law Offices of Charles D. Naylor has been compassionately and aggressively representing injured workers from the maritime trades including seamen, longshore and marine construction workers, and cruise ship passengers and crew. With more than 100 years combined experience, our attorneys specialize in Maritime Personal Injury, Jones Act, Longshore & Harbor Workers Compensation Act and Cruise Ship Injury.

In 2007, Charles D. Naylor obtained a $55.2 million jury verdict ($5.2M compensatory / $50M punitive) against the now bankrupt DaimlerChrysler for the wrongful death of a longshoreman (Los Angeles Superior Court, BC 332487, Mraz v. DaimlerChrysler Corporation).

Charles D. Naylor received California Lawyer magazine’s prestigious CLAY Award in 2008, has an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell and has been recognized by Southern California Super Lawyers as one of the “top attorneys in Southern California” (2007- 2011). For more information, visit http://www.NaylorLaw.com, call (888) 440-5829.

(c) Copyright 2012 Charles D. Naylor. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

(Note from LexisNexis: This article will be reprinted in an upcoming issue of the Benefits Review Board Service—Longshore Reporter (LexisNexis).)