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Oil Field Worker Awarded $44M in Injury That Left Him Paralyzed

An oilfield worker who was rendered quadriplegic after a light fixture improperly attached to an oil derrick fell more than 100 feet onto his head has settled his claims against five companies for a total of $44 million.

By Max Mitchell | December 13, 2018 at 03:44 PM


An oilfield worker who was rendered quadriplegic after a light fixture improperly attached to an oil derrick fell more than 100 feet onto his head has settled his claims against five companies for a total of $44 million.

The multimillion-dollar award is meant to compensate the injured plaintiff, James Burgess, and his wife, Kay Sharon Burgess, who live in rural Texas. The case, which was filed in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, came to a settlement after two days of mediation before retired federal magistrate Judge Diane Welsh.

“Mrs. Burgess’s loss of consortium claim was probably the most significant consortium claim anyone in the case had ever encountered,” Sheridan & Murray attorney Thomas Sheridan, who represented the Burgesses, said. “Her husband is in a hospital over 90 miles away from her house. She drove to the hospital every day for the last six years to see her husband.”

According to court papers, James Burgess was working on a drill rig owned and operated by Patterson Drilling Services in December 2012. A four-foot LED light designed by Dialight fell 103 feet onto Burgess’ head, causing a neck fracture that compressed his spinal cord and rendered him permanently quadriplegic.

The Burgesses sued Dialight, which designed and marketed the light; National Oilwell Varco, which designed and manufactured the rig’s component parts; Clark Electrical Contractors, the company that installed the light; Cabot Petroleum North Sea Ltd., which owned the mineral rights of the oil; and Patterson.

According to Burgess’ pretrial memo, Dialight did not manufacture the light for use on drill rigs, but the company still marketed the lights to the oil and gas industry for use on rigs. Specifically, the memo said the fixtures lacked anchors that would allow it to be properly attached to safety cables.

Burgess also contended that Clark Electrical Contractors knew the lights were not designed for use on oil drills, but installed them anyway, without the proper safety cables. Burgess’ memo further contended that National Oilwell Varco, which made the rig, should have included warning signs or instructions saying that all light fixtures needed to be secured to the drill rig with safety cables for secondary retention.

Patterson, Burgess argued in his memo, also failed to perform safety inspections that would have found that the lights were not properly affixed to the rig. He further alleged that two inspection reports falsified information by certifying that safety cables had been installed, even though they had not been.

Burgess’ memo also noted that about 90 minutes before the accident, the electrician who installed the lights noticed one had been knocked loose and was hanging from its power cable. A worker from Cabot stopped work on the rig and the light was removed, the memo said. Burgess contended that, since the loose light had not been attached with a safety cable, Cabot should have done a full inspection of the lights.

The Burgesses raised strict liability and negligence claims against the defendants.

According to court papers, all defendants contested liability.

Clark contended that the other defendants were comparatively at fault, and that the company owed no duty of care to Burgess. National Oilwell Varco contended it had no knowledge about the allegedly defective light, and that improperly attaching the light was the superseding cause of the accident.

Dialight, according to court papers, denied that the product was defective, and contended there was comparative negligence on behalf of the other parties. Cabot denied that it owned, or controlled the drilling site, and argued that Burgess’ suit was barred under the statutory employer doctrine. Patterson also raised the statutory employer defense, and contended that Burgess had assumed the risk.

Sheridan, who handled the case with Neil Murray and Frank Mangiaracina, said that, with multiple theories of liability and considerations stemming from the Fair Share Act, the case was extremely complex.

With the defendants pushing to have the case handled in Susquehanna County, venue was also hotly disputed, Sheridan said, adding that discovery was also so contested the court appointed former Philadelphia Judge Mark Bernstein as a special master to handle discovery disputes.

“The saddest aspect of the case is that this industrial accident was entirely preventable,” Sheridan said.

James Doherty of Scanlon, Howley & Doherty, who represented Clark, did not return a call for comment. Dialight was represented by White and Williams attorney Robert Devine, who also did not return a call for comment. Jackson Kelly attorney Michael Leahey represented Cabot. He referred comment to the company’s in-house attorney, Cole DeLancey, who also did not return a call for comment.

When reached for comment, Andrew Weinstock of Duplass Zwain Bourgeois Pfister Weinstock & Bogart, who represented National Oilwell Varco, said, “NOV did not sell, design, manufacture or install the allegedly defective product. NOV reached the settlement to avoid continuing litigation expenses.”

—Max Mitchell, of the Law Weekly

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The oil industry continues to grow with the world’s demand for oil and natural gas.  With this increased demand, there has also been an increase in accidents causing serious injury and death to workers who often are inadequately trained or supervised.  We offer experienced, strategic support to protect the rights of our clients and their families after suffering a serious oil field injury or death.

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An oilfield injury or death may be caused by:

Company failure to take reasonable precautions

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Safety Violations

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Drug & alcohol abuse

Negligent operation

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Oil Field Accidents and Injuries are on the Rise

Oil and gas industry injuries are the most dangerous and fatal in the country.  From 2003 to 2010, the U.S. oil and gas industry (both onshore and offshore combined) had a collective fatality rate that was 7 times higher than the rate for all U.S. workers combined. Louisiana had 5 catastrophic refinery and oil rig explosions between January and October 2017, more than any other state in the country.

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