Vessels monitor a oil burn in the area of the Deepwater Horizon disaster on the Gulf of Mexico, Tuesday, July 13, 2010. BP officials have placed a containment cap over the leak in hopes that the flow of oil will be diminished. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
President Barack Obama makes a statement after being briefed on the BP oil spill relief efforts in the Gulf Coast region, Friday, June 4, 2010, at Louis Armstrong International New Orleans Airport in Kenner, La. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Protesters gather outside of the BP offices in San Francisco on Wednesday, May 12, 2010 to demonstrate against the Gulf oil rig disaster. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
This image from video provided by BP PLC early Sunday morning, June 13, 2010 shows oil continuing to pour out at the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. The Coast Guard has demanded that BP step up its efforts to contain the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico by the end of the weekend, telling the British oil giant that its slow pace in stopping the spill is becoming increasingly alarming as the disaster fouled the coastline in ugly new ways Saturday. (AP Photo/BP PLC) NO SALES
This image from video provided by BP PLC early Sunday morning, June 20, 2010 shows oil continuing to gush millions of gallons a day, from the broken wellhead, at the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. (AP Photo/BP PLC) NO SALES
GULF SHORES, AL - JUNE 08: Workers pick up oil patches and tar that washed up on the beach at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on June 8, 2010 in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Early reports indicate that BP's latest plan to stem the flow of oil from the site of the Deepwater Horizon incident may be having some success. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Oil floats in the Gulf of Mexico near Orange Beach, Alabama, U.S., on Friday, June 18, 2010. The BP Plc oil spill, which began when the leased Transocean Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded on April 20, is gushing as much as 60,000 barrels of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico, the government said. Photographer: Kari Goodnough/Bloomberg
Oil cleanup workers hired by BP pick up oil on the beach in Gulf Shores, Ala., Friday, July 2, 2010. Oil from the Deepwater Horizon incident is expected to come ashore over the July 4th weekend. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
In this image taken from video provided by BP PLC at 18:17 CDT, a new containment cap, top, is lowered over the broken wellhead at the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Monday, July 12, 2010. Deep-sea robots swarmed around BP's ruptured oil well Monday in a delicately choreographed effort to attach the tighter-fitting cap that could finally stop crude from gushing into the Gulf of Mexico nearly three months into the crisis. (AP Photo/BP PLC) NO SALES
This combo made from images taken from video provided by BP PLC shows oil flowing from two of three valves on the new 75-ton cap atop the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico at 17:04 CDT Wednesday, July 14, 2010, left, and the top of the cap at 17:56 CDT on Thursday, July 15, minutes after the flow of oil was choked off. BP vice president Kent Wells said the oil stopped flowing into the water at 14:25 CDT after engineers gradually dialed back the amount of crude escaping through the last of three vents in the cap, an 18-foot-high metal stack of pipes and valves.(AP Photo/BP PLC) NO SALES
The view from an approaching helicopter shows the armada of drillships and other vessels surrounding the site of the blown out BP well in the Gulf of Mexico about 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana. Credit Brett Clanton / Chronicle
Oil gushes from a valve atop the failed blowout preventer (BOP) at the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill site in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana, U.S., in an image captured by the Skandi remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) camera at 7:35 a.m. Central Standard Time (CST) on Tuesday, July 13, 2010. BP Plc installed a new cap on its leaking Gulf of Mexico oil well and will start testing today whether this will stop the gusher while work continues on a permanent plug. Source: BP Plc via Bloomberg
EDITOR'S NOTE: EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO SALES.
GULF OF MEXICO, LA - JULY 27: (EDITORS NOTE: Distortion caused by heat.) Ships assist in clean up and containment near the source of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill July 27, 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana. Work continues to put a permanent plug on the well which has leaked an estimated three to five million barrels of oil. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Hairdresser Karen Jackson wears a t-shirt that reads "We've been BPeed on!" on the front of the shirt and "Gulf Oil Disaster 2010-??" on the back Saturday, July 3, 2010, in Orange Beach, Ala. Jackson says she is worried about the effect the spill is having on her community and what will happen if local business continues to falter. "I would hate to have to leave this place. We love it here." She said her business is way off what it should be for the season, "down here we make all of our money in the summer," she says. Her husband's work as an electrician has dried up she says, so he has signed on to work cleanup for BP. ( Smiley N. Pool / Houston Chronicle )
A driver rolls down the highway with messages such as "$ave the Gulf Coa$t" and "Tony Hayward C.E. O of B.P. Give us out Live Back" while driving Sunday, June 27, 2010, in Pensacola, Florida. ( Smiley N. Pool / Houston Chronicle )
This still image from a live BP video feed shows a view from a submersible while checking the integrity of the well head on August 3, 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico. BP prepared Tuesday to plug the worst oil leak in history, although the Gulf of Mexico region will be counting the environmental and economic costs for years, perhaps decades, to come. Already delayed by a week due to Tropical Storm Bonnie, the long-awaited "static kill" was put off again at the last-minute when a leak was discovered on Monday in the cap that has been sealing the runaway well since July 15. US spill chief Thad Allen said the leak had been stopped overnight and that the operation to ram in heavy drilling fluids, known as mud, would commence as soon as "injectivity tests" had given the procedure the all-clear. AFP PHOTO / BP == RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE / NO SALES / NO MARKETING / NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGN == (Photo credit should read HO/AFP/Getty Images)(Photo Credit should Read /AFP/Getty Images)
In this image taken from video provided by BP PLC at 12:23 a.m. EDT, Saturday Sept. 4, 2010 Aug. 3, 2010 shows the blowout preventer that failed to stop oil from spewing into the Gulf of Mexico being raised to the surface. The blowout preventer wasn't expected to reach the surface until Saturday, at which point government investigators will take possession of it. (AP Photo/BP PLC) NO SALES
DAUPHIN ISLAND, AL. | JULY 4, 2010 : A cleanup worker, wearing a protective coverall and carrying a small scoop, punctuates an otherwise typical holiday beach scene as patrols the beach looking for tar balls on Independence Day. While exact numbers are elusive, tourist business along the Gulf Coast all reported feeling the sting of lost income from a noticeable dip in tourism this summer following the Deepwater Horizon spill.
GULF OF MEXICO | JUNE 26, 2010 : Streaks of oil are seen on the surface of the water near the site of the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The amount of oil spilled, and what happened to the oil remains in debate, but in August, the Department of Energy and United States Geological Survey announced, that it estimated a total of 4.9 million barrels of oil had been released from the BP Deepwater Horizon well.
GRAND ISLE, LA. | JULY 15, 2010 : Oil containment boom floats just off the pier as fishermen cast lines near the bridge leading to the island after sun sets on the first full day of fishing after a ban on sport fishing was lifted. Commercial fishing remained closed, but happy recreational fishermen flocked to the water on a beautiful evening. Most were BP contractors working on the cleanup. One was Bobby Walker of Houma, La., who said he had been coming to the island to fish for over 30 years and praised the great fishing and natural beauty of the island. "But who would have ever thought I would be here all summer working on the oil spill."
Almost 1,000 documents have been filed since the lawsuits against BP and other companies involved in the Gulf oil spill were combined in a New Orleans court.
Buddy Trahan cares about only one of them.
Trahan was the most seriously injured survivor of the Deep-water Horizon accident, and his personal injury lawsuit against BP has gotten brushed aside by the trial, set to start next week, that will establish liability for the companies involved.
Trahan, 44, has asked to have his case moved back to state court in Houston, but U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, who’s overseeing next week’s proceeding, has delayed any decisions on motions such as Trahan’s.
As a result, Trahan has been pushed to the back of the line while the companies’ financial concerns take center stage.
“No amount of money will ever bring Buddy back to the status quo,” Trahan’s attorney, Lance Lubel, said. “These people, unlike a business, cannot ever be made whole. They deserve the priority.”
About a dozen or so claims from survivors and victims’ families are still pending, and while some have agreed to have their cases included in the New Orleans proceeding, some, like Trahan, have not.
Instead, while the commercial interests are resolved, Trahan, who lives in Katy, faces the prospect of waiting another year or more to get his day in court — an emotional injury to compound the physical ones he’s endured.
A horrific story
Trahan, a Transocean manager who’d flown to the rig with a group of executives the day of the disaster, was in an office when the first explosion erupted. Details from interviews with other survivors, Trahan’s attorney and court documents reveal his horrific story.
The blast propelled him more than 30 feet, slamming him into a wall. Badly burned and unconscious, he was impaled through the neck by the protruding hinge of a steel door blown loose by the blast.
Chief electrician Chad Murray, whom I wrote about in December, found Trahan buried under debris while searching for boots for another worker. Trahan was bleeding profusely from the fist-sized hole in his neck and a gash on his thigh that was about 9 inches long and bone-deep. The full extent of his injuries wasn’t known until later: 12 broken bones, eight deep lacerations, a crushed knee, a closed head injury and burns over a quarter of his body. Murray and others were able to put Trahan on a stretcher and get him to a lifeboat.
Since his rescue, Trahan has had nine surgeries and faces more, including two knee replacements. In a wheelchair for months, he still can walk only with the aid of crutches, Lubel said.
Trahan, who remains a Transocean employee, filed suit in Houston against BP and seven other companies involved in the Macondo project, but not Transocean. One of the defendants asked that the suit be moved to federal court, where it was corralled with other federal suits into the mega-case in New Orleans.
Looking for attention
In an attempt to get the judge’s attention amid the flurry of motions leading up to next week’s trial, Lubel filed a tongue-in-cheek motion with references to A Streetcar Named Desire, the Tennessee Williams play set in New Orleans.
“Buddy Trahan needs a ride. He needs that ride every bit as much as he needed the help and kindness of strangers to escape the inferno aboard the Deepwater Horizon,” it begins. “And so, like a beleaguered passenger who fruitlessly waits for a streetcar that will not come, Buddy Trahan has waited, and waited, and waited some more to be transported back to state court in Houston so that he may begin anew his long-derailed journey to justice.”
Lubel admits his tactic is a long shot. “We didn’t know what else to do,” he said. “The judge is seeing thousands of mundane motions, and we felt we needed to do something to get his attention.”
Just as the race to cap the well after the accident quickly overshadowed the loss of life, so, too, have the commercial interests of the companies involved swept away the plight of those who bore the greatest cost from the disaster, and who most deserve their day in court.
Loren Steffy, firstname.lastname@example.org, is the Chronicle’s business columnist. His commentary appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. His blog is at http://blogs.chron.com/lorensteffy. Follow him on his Facebook fan page and at twitter.com/lsteffy.