BP Settlement Claims

Gulf Coast Disaster News

For survivors, spill trial falls short of justice

February 27, 2012, 4:19 pm

Originally posted by Loren Steffy - Houston Chronicle - February 12, 2012

The percentages won't mean much to Stephen Stone.

Whether a federal judge presiding over a court proceeding - which was set to begin Monday but has been delayed a week -- in New Orleans finds BP 50 percent liable for the Deepwater Horizon disaster or 65 percent or whatever doesn't matter to him. Almost two years after the disaster that unleashed the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history, BP, Transocean and Halliburton each will attempt to convince a judge that the other companies bear more responsibility.

But for Stone, a Katy resident who spent two years working on the rig before the April 20, 2010, blowout that killed 11 of his co-workers, the blame is clear.

"I think they're all at fault," Stone, 25, told me last week, speaking publicly about the ordeal for the first time since testifying before Congress in 2010. "It's frustrating to see them try to skirt responsibility."

The cold legal calculus used to determine the liability each company must bear is the sort of thing that matters to those who must deal with the cold financial aftermath of disaster - lawyers, accountants, executives and investors.

Stone's personal injury claim against Transocean, BP and others is among those included in the New Orleans mega-case, but for him, like others who escaped the Deepwater Horizon with their lives - and for the families of those who didn't - such machinations of the legal system seem far removed from the struggle to reassemble their lives.

Stone and his wife, Sara, married just six months at the time of the disaster, have faced trials of a different sort in the two years since he returned from the Deepwater Horizon. Like many of the survivors, Stone was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, which has made it difficult for him to keep a job.

Medical benefits have run out, the couple's savings are depleted and they've had to borrow from family to make ends meet. It's taken a toll on their marriage.

"We're completely different people now," Sara Stone said.

Hidden cost

They bear the hidden cost of disaster, the price that can't be calculated by percent or adjudicated with the tap of a gavel.

Stone had been nearing the end of his three-week hitch aboard the rig the night the disaster struck. As a roustabout, he did a variety of jobs, and the day of the accident he'd been assisting crane operators and helping to pump drilling mud from the well onto the nearby supply boat. When his shift ended, he crawled into bed and fell asleep.

The first explosion woke him up, and it was quickly followed by a second that shook the entire rig and blew open the door to his cabin. He stumbled into the corridor that led to the lifeboat deck but found the way blocked by debris. He turned and headed in the opposite direction.

Realizing he was barefoot, he ducked into his cabin to grab some shoes and a pair of coveralls, then turned to leave. Suddenly, he stopped, remembering that his wedding ring was in his locker. Rig workers weren't supposed to wear jewelry around the heavy machinery on board.

As he slipped the wedding band onto his finger, he saw his supervisor scramble past his door, and he followed him to the lifeboat.

Strapped into his seat and waiting for the boat to descend the 100 feet or so to the water below, Stone could see the light of the flames intensifying, and he wondered if he or any of his co-workers would survive.

It would be 24 hours before he made it to shore.

Sara Stone, meanwhile, had rushed to New Orleans, worried whether Stephen was still alive. She waited more than 12 hours before he was finally able to call.

Since then, the Stones have watched as the companies involved brush aside the tragedy, carrying on as if nothing had changed. Transocean initially gave its top executives a bonus for safe operations despite the accident. BP had an interest in the first deep-water well permitted in the Gulf after the accident.

While BP was the operator of the Macondo well, Stone said he also blames his former employer, Transocean, for not doing more to protect workers.

"I looked to them as the last line of defense against bad decisions," he said.

Two years lost

While the Stones are gradually putting their lives back together, Stephen said he feels as if he's lost the past two years and wonders how much longer it will be before life feels normal again.

Sara Stone said she still watches or reads everything she can about the aftermath of the accident and plans to follow the trial closely. The proceeding, though, is about jockeying over numbers, about assigning companies' liability and determining the size of the checks companies will have to write.

Stephen Stone said he worries that the payouts will be too little and the personal accountability too ephemeral to change how rigs operate.

"I'd like to see someone held accountable," he said. "When stuff like this happens, they should pay dearly for it so there's some incentive to make it safer. People should understand what sort of damage these things do."

Original article - http://www.chron.com/business/steffy/article/Steffy-For-survivors-spill-trial-falls-short-of-3360302.php

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