Steffy: Rig survivor wants day in court before BP deal approved

Amid the emotional outpouring from families of those who died aboard the Deepwater Horizon is a simple request that U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance needs to grant before she approves BP’s record criminal settlement later this month.

Buddy Trahan, a Transocean manager and the most seriously injured survivor of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, remains in legal limbo, his case against BP entangled with other civil claims pending in a different New Orleans federal court.

In a statement filed with Vance last week, Trahan asked her to free his lawsuit from that combined civil litigation and return it to the Houston state court in which he originally filed it.

Trahan is permanently disabled from injuries he sustained in the rig explosion. As BP and the government were putting the final touches on their criminal settlement late last year, he was preparing for his eleventh surgery.

Trahan’s statement was among a handful filed by survivors and family members of the 11 men killed in the disaster. They expressed concern that with the $4 billion settlement, BP is buying its way out of criminal liability. They are angry that the company, which has spent millions attempting to burnish its public image after the disaster, has yet to offer them even a simple, direct recognition of their suffering. “I read that BP paid nearly $5 million for Christmas lights on a boardwalk in Florida and was lauded in business journals for paying hundreds of millions of dollars to Gulf Coast luxury condo owners,” Trahan wrote.

No restitution, he says

Yet BP refused to pay his medical bills, he claims, and he hasn’t “received any restitution for my injuries from BP or any other responsible parties.” His case, filed just months after the accident, has been stalled for more than two years. It’s not clear if Vance will take statements from Trahan or others into account in ruling on the criminal settlement. She could decide to alter the terms of the settlement, though, which could delay the deal. It’s possible, but less likely, she would reject it outright, forcing a trial.

Some of the victims’ families indicated that’s what they want, if only to air the details of the disaster and ensure that the shortcuts that led to it never happen again.

“I do not want them to only throw money at the problem,” wrote Kathleen Goodlife, sister of Gordon Jones, an employee of drilling mud company MI Swaco who died in the accident. “I want to see for once BP doesn’t just get to slide by.”

BP, of course, has a history of sliding by. A joint memo filed by the company and the government urging the judge to approve the settlement acknowledges the company’s lengthy rap sheet, which includes environmental fines dating to 2000 and guilty pleas for manipulating commodities markets, pipeline leaks in Alaska and the 2005 Texas City refinery explosion that killed 15 people and injured more than 170. Some of those victims, like Trahan, are permanently disabled.

Other survivors

Nowhere, though, does the memo acknowledge the plight of Trahan, other survivors or the victims’ families.

In his statement, Trahan detailed his injuries from the blast: 16 scars; more than a half dozen deep lacerations – including a fist-sized hole in his neck from where the force of the blast impaled him on a metal door hinge – 12 broken bones, including both legs; a crushed knee; a closed head injury; permanent nerve damage and burns over a quarter of his body.

Chronic pain

He now lives with chronic pain and insomnia, brought on in part by a recurring nightmare in which he’s abandoned on the flaming rig, left on a stretcher to die.

The criminal settlement follows a proposed civil one for that would cost BP an estimated $7.8 billion and address claims filed by owners of restaurants, hotels, fishing boats and other businesses along the Gulf Coast affected by the oil that spewed from the ruptured well in the months after the blowout.

Can’t turn the page

“BP obviously wants to turn the page on this chapter of its corporate life and go back to business as usual – drilling for oil and obtaining large, profitable U.S. government contracts,” he wrote. “But for me and others similarly situated, we cannot simply turn the page. Our lives have been permanently scarred as a result of BP’s criminal acts.”

None of them can ever be made whole. No amount of money, fines or guilty pleas offered by BP can heal them.

But those who suffered the most shouldn’t become a legal afterthought. Before Vance allows BP to wrap up its day in court, she should make sure Buddy Trahan gets his.