Our Results: As a result of our firm’s efforts, our clients received millions of dollars in damages from the responsible parties.
In the Penrod litigation, Hugh Lambert acted as lead counsel in the multiple party disaster that resulted when the Penrod mobile offshore drilling unit (MODU) collapsed during a violent and damaging hurricane. The Penrod 61 was a Marathon LeTourneau Jack-Up Rig owned by Penrod Drilling Co. and leased by Chevron USA that was working in the Gulf of Mexico in October of 1985. Before Hurricane Juan slammed into the Rig, the bottom of the rig’s hull stood 50 feet above sea level of the Gulf of Mexico. As is customary and required by internal operations, the rig was “pre-loaded” during set up on the drilling site, a procedure in which water is added to the Rig’s ballast tanks to maximize weight so the bases of the jack-up legs are firmly planted into the sea bottom for stability.
Despite predictions of an oncoming hurricane, Penrod and Chevron USA decided to leave their full crew on board the rig to “ride out the storm.” They apparently believed the storm would never become a hurricane, but on the night of October 27, the storm developed into a massive hurricane boasting 80 knot winds and 30 foot seas. The rig almost immediately began to list toward its bow leg. As the bow leg sank deeper into the Gulf floor, the Rig’s jacking motors struggled to overcome the list. The forces ultimately caused the bow leg to give way, and the Penrod 61 collapsed into the Gulf. Some men jumped into the water and were later rescued. Eighteen crew members were able to make their way into Whittaker capsules designed for escaping a drilling disaster, such as a blowout or fire, rather than a hurricane.
The Whittaker survival capsules were tossed about like corks in the 30 foot waves, frequently captsizing and covering the crew members in water, human excrement, gasoline and vomit. Eventually the men, terrified of drowning, opened the submerged hatch and swam out of the capsule into the raging hurricanes. Outside of the capsule, they struggled to hang on to one another and to the capsized escape capsule. Sadly, our client was swept from the capsule, drifted away, and drowned before daybreak. The Penrod 61, driven by the force of the hurricane winds and seas, also drifted and ultimately collided with a sister company Rig, the Penrod 60, which had been evacuated during the storm in anticipation of the impending collision.
After an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board it was decided that the rig collapse was caused by a structural failure to the rig’s bow leg. Some speculated that the pre-loading process was flawed and that the hurricane winds and seas caused the bow leg to sink further into the Gulf bottom, resulting in the bow leg’s structural failure.
Our firm was primarily responsible for the liability and causation issues that led to the jack–up rig collapsing into the Gulf of Mexico during the storm due to inadequate pre-loading procedures and the failure to promulgate and/or follow appropriate evacuation procedures. The Lambert Firm also developed evidence which led to improved techniques, equipment, and procedures for evacuating offshore drilling rigs and platforms in an emergency.