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How gulf oil rig explosion survivors were manipulated

Postby Janet » Tue May 11, 2010 3:59 pm

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/stor ... =126667241

May 10, 2010
In the aftermath of last month's explosion of an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, all the survivors wanted to do was get to dry land and call their loved ones. Yet for more than 24 hours, they were told to stay on ships on the water.

One reason was that the Coast Guard wanted to get information about the explosions on the rig and what caused them. And the company that owned the oil rig Deepwater Horizon also wanted answers.

Coast Guard officers boarded the supply boat, the Damon Bankston, soon after it picked up survivors, including Deepwater Horizon crew member Christopher Choy, from the Gulf of Mexico. The Coast Guard wanted to know what caused the explosion, and the officers wanted witness statements.

Choy, a young roustabout on the rig, was handed a form to fill out, asking what he'd seen. "They came on there, and they gathered everybody in the galley on the boat and handed out ... papers and stuff saying, '[These are] statements. You need to sign these. Nobody's getting off here until we get one from everybody.' "

But when Choy read the Coast Guard form, he didn't like what he saw. "At the bottom, it said something about, like, you know, this can be used as evidence in court and all that. I told them, I'm not signing it," Choy says. "Most of the people signed it and filled them out. I just didn't feel comfortable doing it." Choy shared his story at length with NPR and the PBS program NewsHour, in one of the most extensive interviews from a survivor of the April 20 rig blast.

The Coast Guard acknowledges it kept the men on the water in part so its investigators could get statements. But Choy says he thought the man who gave him the form said he was a lawyer with BP, the oil company. BP says it had no investigators or lawyers there.

Choy didn't sign the Coast Guard form. But he'd come to regret that he didn't refuse the next time he was asked to sign something.

He says he was desperate to see his wife. Choy, who's 23, and Monica, who's 19, were married last October.

Tracking Down Choy

Monica first learned about the explosion from a phone call from an eyewitness — Choy's stepfather. He worked on another rig 30 miles away from the Deepwater Horizon. "And the first thing he asked is, 'Please don't tell me that's the Horizon,' and he said, 'Because that's my son. My son's on that Horizon.' And you know, they told him that it was. And he just came in a panic." He called Monica with the news.

Monica would spend the next 12 hours waiting to hear if her husband was dead or alive. She repeatedly called a number for Transocean, Choy's employer, and the owner of the rig. When someone finally called her back, they could only say that her husband was on a list of the survivors.

That wasn't good enough for Monica, at home in Houston.

"I've never been on a plane before," she says. But she took a cab to the airport because she was too upset to drive. She'd never taken a cab before, either. She took the quick 45-minute flight to New Orleans. "It scared me, but I didn't care at the time," she says.

By the time she got to the hotel in Louisiana, Choy was still on the boat.

Choy, here with his wife, Monica, says he is angry that the waiver he signed relinquishes the oil company from responsibility, when responsibility on the oil rig was what the company stressed to its workers.
"That's all everybody on the boat kept talking about — was, man, I wish they'd just let me call me wife. I wish they would just let me call my wife so she could know I'm OK," Choy says.

He wouldn't get onto land until about 28 hours after the explosion on the oil rig. Then someone handed him a cell phone, and for the first time he had a minute to call Monica to say he was safe.

Two hours later, Choy was escorted to a nearby hotel where his wife waited in the lobby. "It was a lot like the day we got married," Choy says of seeing his wife's smiling face at that moment. "She smiled at first, and then it went to tears. And I thought she was going to choke me by hugging me."

Says Monica, "I just didn't want to let go. You know, I just wanted to stay there and just hold him."

'It Shouldn't Count'

But before they could go home, there was one more form and one more attempt to get the survivors to give information. At the hotel, there were representatives for Transocean who asked Choy to initial a line that said: I was not injured as a result of the incident or evacuation.

Choy had seen men with open wounds and burning flesh. He knew 11 of his friends were dead. He felt he was among the lucky ones.

Exhausted and just wanting to get home with Monica, he signed.

That angers his attorney, Steve Gordon of Houston.

"And that's how they treat them? It's absurd. It's unacceptable, and it's irresponsible," Gordon says. "Criminals get a chance to talk to a lawyer. They purposely kept them away from the public."

Gordon says Choy can't go back to his old job on the rig. He's being treated for nightmares and flashbacks.

Choy's attorney, Steve Gordon, says the former roustabout can't go back to his old job on the rig because he's being treated for nightmares and flashbacks.

And when Choy sued his employer, Transocean wrote back and said: But you signed that form. You said you weren't injured.

Choy's angry, too, that it's being held against him.

"It shouldn't count, because I'd been up for almost 40 hours ... and just gone through hell," Choy says. "And they want to throw papers in my face for me to sign to take them, you know, out of their responsibility.

"That's one of the things they preached to us the entire time you work there and do any kind of training, is be responsible. That's part of their core values, is responsibility. And then, the first thing they threw at me when I get to the hotel, you know, is a paper relieving them of their responsibility," Choy says.

Transocean says it's focused on the oil spill cleanup and it can't comment on lawsuits.

Choy says the company now has a responsibility to him: To help him get medical treatment to deal with his constant memories of the sounds, smells and sights of the fire and death of that night at sea.
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Postby Janet » Tue May 11, 2010 4:02 pm

:shock: :shock: :shock: :o :o :o :evil: :evil: :evil:

How unfair!! So much for "liberty and JUSTICE FOR ALL".
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Postby Janet » Tue May 11, 2010 4:09 pm

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/stor ... 5283&ps=rs

Rig Survivors Felt Coerced to Sign Waivers
May 6, 2010

Hours after they had been rescued, workers who survived an explosion on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico were asked to sign form letters about what they had seen and whether they had been injured.

Read The Waiver
"I Was On Board The Deepwater Horizon On April 20, 2010..."
Lawyers for the oil rig's owner, Transocean, requested that workers who had survived the blast sign the form in the wake of the April 20 blowout on the Deepwater Horizon. This was hours before the workers had been allowed to see their families.

Now some of those survivors say they were coerced and that the forms are being used against them as they file lawsuits seeking compensation for psychiatric problems and other injuries from the blast.

"The form that they made them sign had, 'I was here when it happened, I didn't see anything.' Or 'I saw this and I was or was not hurt,' " says Steven Gordon, a Houston attorney who represents some of the survivors.

It's a pre-printed form letter. The surviving rig worker was asked to fill in the date, his name and address and where he was at the time the evacuation was ordered.

Then there are the two paragraphs at the end.

One says: "I was not a witness to the incident requiring the evacuation and have no first hand or personal knowledge regarding the incident."

The second says: "I was not injured as a result of the incident or evacuation."

The men were asked — if they agreed — to initial those statements.

Documents show those initials now are being used against the survivors as they file lawsuits seeking payment for emotional distress and other claims. Gordon says "When we were hired by one of the survivors, we gave notice to Transocean's lawyers. And the immediate response was, 'Wow, we're surprised. Here's a statement that says he's not hurt.'"

Gordon and attorney Kurt Arnold each have one client who has received letters from Transocean in the past few days.

Arnold says asking the men to sign those forms was coercive. He says the request came more than 24 hours after the rescue, after the men had seen 11 of their friends die in the explosion and chaos of that night, and after they had run to lifeboats to try to save their own lives.

Arnold's clients aren't speaking publicly but have described the scene to him. "It's extremely gruesome," he says. "I mean, one of the guys told me that as he's running out, there's guys burning and some guys missing limbs. It's like a war zone."

Arnold and Gordon say the survivors were kept on the water, in boats and on another rig for 15 hours or more. The explosion on the rig happened at about 10 p.m. on Tuesday, April 20. "They did not bring them in till 3 a.m. Thursday morning," Gordon says.

When they did get to shore, he says: "They were zipped into private buses, there was security there, there was no press, no lawyers allowed, nothing, no family members. They drove them to this hotel and they escorted them into the back of this hotel, once again under escort."

It would be many hours more, according to lawyers and survivors, before they could see family and, for many, even telephone loved ones to say they were safe.

Secluded at a hotel, they were questioned by company consultants and investigators. And given the form to sign.

Arnold says it only added to his client's emotional distress. "Talking about adding to post-traumatic stress. Don't take them in once you get 'em off the rig. Just keep 'em there for 15 hours so that they can watch, watch their rig burning up, knowing they had to leave some of those guys behind. I mean come on. Really? Was there any reason for that?"

But Arnold thinks it was very deliberate. "The reason they were doing that, I think, is so they could assemble their teams onshore of investigators so that when they got to the hotel room they could try to get these guys to sign statements and such before they'd even let them go to bed. That's what they did. Unbelievable."

Other legal experts said the tactic of such letters is extreme but not unheard of — and that courts may question them. Says Robert Anderson, who teaches maritime law at Pepperdine University School of Law in California: "I think the court would respond very skeptically to a waiver of any type of these basic rights where the seaman was acknowledging that he or she was not injured or suffered no damages or otherwise was releasing the employer, particularly if that waiver was executed in the wake of a rescue at sea."

NPR contacted Transocean and the company sent a response by e-mail. "From the beginning," the response says, "our focus has been on the crewmembers and their families, working with all parties in the response efforts and conducting a Transocean investigation into the incident. At this time, it would be inappropriate to comment on litigation."
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