Victims argue drunken driver was at Schlumberger party

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

Nov. 20, 2012 at 5:20 a.m.
Updated Nov. 21, 2012 at 5:21 a.m.

A couple involved in a 2008 Refugio County accident who suffered leg amputations may now get a chance to prove why an oil company is to blame.

Two of the three justices for the 13th Court of Appeals in Corpus Christi voted earlier this month to reverse a lower court's summary judgment. The 276th Judicial District Court ruled previously that Schlumberger, which operates in Victoria and Sugar Land, wasn't liable for what happened after one of their clients left their boating festivities.

Christopher and Denise Arthey, formerly of the Woodlands, appealed the decision in June 2011.

Riding motorcycles, the Artheys were struck head-on by a vehicle driven by David Huff on state Highway 35 north of Port Aransas the afternoon of May 16, 2008. They both lost a leg as a result of the accident.

Huff, an employee at the time of Petrobras America Inc., was returning home from a three-day fishing trip organized by Schlumberger "to thank him for his business," according to court records.

Huff said no work was conducted on the trip.

Witnesses said he was driving erratically at the time of the collision, and officials measured his blood alcohol content at .250 about three hours later.

Huff later pleaded guilty to intoxication assault.

The crux of the issue was whether general maritime law applied to the accident, said Hans Barcus, the Artheys' attorney.

"Maritime law is federal law. It governs the navigable water of the United States," and would determine whether Schlumberger was responsible for something that happened on land if it was caused by something that happened on water, he said.

Barcus said, if the law applies, it may mean Schlumberger had a duty not to create a floating dram shop, or, in other words, serve alcohol on the boat.

Schlumberger's attorney, Michael Terry, as well as Steven Harris, the company's North America communications manager, could not be reached for comment.

Justice Rose Vela, who wrote the dissenting opinion that agreed with the lower court's decision, said the alcohol wasn't provided by Schlumberger.

"And, in fact, all of the evidence in the record established that if individuals wanted to drink alcohol on the boats, they were required to bring it themselves," Vela wrote. "Under the circumstances here, it was Huff's conduct, whether deemed criminal, reckless or negligent, that caused this tragic accident."

Barcus said the appellate court's decision is "good news for my clients. This has strengthened their faith. They will need a lifetime of medical care as a result of the amputations."

He said they've never given Schlumberger a dollar amount in the damages they're seeking.

Denise and Christopher Arthey, the latter of whom regularly runs marathons with a prosthetic leg, now live in Doha, Qatar.

"Surprisingly, right from the very beginning, we felt no bitterness towards the drunk driver," Denise Arthey said in a biographical YouTube video, "and that's helped us put our energies into recovering."

"Even if the worst happens, you don't have to be under the circumstances. You can rise above them," Christopher Arthey added.

Schlumberger may appeal the decision to the Texas Supreme Court in Austin.



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