A Texas jury has returned a verdict of more than $82 million against two natural gas plant companies after a worker in a rebuilt and refurbished plant was killed in an explosion. Joshua Wade Petrie was a plant operator at a natural gas processing plant in Cleburne, Texas. On May 25, 2007, the worker attempted to start a hot oil heater on a plant processor. After several attempts, the heater exploded. Petrie suffered trauma to his head and chest, and died of his injuries in a hospital the next day.
A lawsuit was filed against Quicksilver Resources, the owner of the gas plant, and Hanover Compression, which sold the gas processing plant to Quicksilver. Hanover Compressions is now known as Exterran Energy Solutions. It was alleged in the suit that Hanover, which owned the plant when it was located in Oklahoma, had the responsibility of relocating the plant to Texas, refurbishing and restoring the plant and its equipment, and then reconstructing the plant and reinstalling the equipment at the Texas site in accordance with specific safety standards and plan specifications. The Defendants argued that Petrie’s own negligence caused the heater to explode.
Hanover failed to install purge systems and safety valves in the oil heater that would have prevented gas from building up inside and causing the explosion that killed the worker. That failure violated the National Fire Protection Association standard. Both Hanover and Quicksilver were on notice about the absence of purge systems and safety valves back in 2005. Purge systems would have gotten the gas out of the furnace.
The Plaintiffs also claimed that the heater was not properly installed. The worker went through the proper steps to start the furnace, and each time gas was introduced inside. Since it wasn’t installed properly, the furnace wouldn’t light. The Plaintiffs’ lawyers focused on OSHA records and witness testimony to explain the proper safety standards and prove their case.
The plant relocation “was a turnkey project,” meaning that Hanover had to reconstruct and transfer the plant to Quicksilver in a ready-to-use condition. Delays in the job cost the companies money. It appears the companies sidestepped safety standards in order to cut costs, despite the fact that the two companies agreed to adhere to NFPA standards in their agreement to sell and relocate the plant.
The jury found Hanover 80% at fault and Quicksilver 20% at fault for the incident. Jurors concluded that the worker was not negligent. The verdict consisted of $57.5 million in compensatory damages for the Plaintiffs’ past and future pecuniary loss, and loss of companionship and mental anguish, as well as $25 in punitive damages. Ammons said the verdict shows other gas processing companies that they will be held accountable if they fail to keep their workers safe.
Three additional Defendants who were involved in various ways with the refurbishing, relocating or installing of the heater were dismissed from the lawsuit as a result of a confidential settlement reached with each. Robert E. Ammons, a lawyer from Houston, Texas, represented the family and did a very good job.
Source: Lawyers USA Online
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