Injured Workers Settle Claims Arising from Gas Well Explosion

Fitzsimmons Law Firm PLLC recently obtained confidential settlements on behalf of four oil and gas workers who were severely burned in a gas well explosion and sustained permanent physical, psychological, and emotional injuries. In their Complaints, the plaintiffs asserted "deliberate intention" causes of action against their respective employers pursuant to W.Va. Code §23-4-2(d)(2)(ii) and claims for negligence and punitive damages against the well operator, permit holder, and other subcontractors. A "deliberate intention" cause of action is a special type of claim wherein an employee can file a claim against his or her employer for an injury or wrongful death sustained at work which is not barred by West Virginia's workers' compensation immunity provision.

According to the Complaints, the defendants were sinking a well and encountered "bad spots" and "lost circulation" when they hit an abandoned coal mine. Methane gas had accumulated in the abandon coal mine and began to escape out the well bore and onto the rig floor. The defendants knew or should have known that methane gas was present because they had encountered methane on a previous well which was drilled only a week prior and was located only 10 feet away. Despite encountering methane gas on the first well, the defendants failed to notify the West Virginia Dept. of Environmental Protection Agency and failed to submit a supplemental casing plan specifying the correct depth of the abandoned coal mine. Defendants further failed to take any additional safety measures and/or precautions to account for the known presence of methane gas, such as installing methane gas detectors/monitors around the perimeter of the rig floor and substructure area, prior to the drilling of the second well.

After encountering the methane gas, the crew notified the toolpusher/foreman and company man of the hazardous conditions. However, the defendants ignored these risks and instructed the crew to continue working. Pursuant to their work directives, the crew continued to work while methane gas continued to pour out of the well and accumulate on the rig floor.

At or about this time, the casing crew arrived on site and began preparations to run casing. The tongs used by the casing company are operated by a 6 cylinder diesel engine hydraulic power unit. Said unit was located only 10 feet from the wellbore. As the casing crew continued its work preparations, one of its crew members started the power unit despite the presence of significant amounts of methane gas. The power unit backfired and ignited the methane gas flowing out of the wellbore. The ignition triggered a massive fire and explosion with flames shooting up over 70 feet high. The explosion resulted in a total loss to the drilling rig and surrounding dog house structures. The fire continued to burn for 5 days.

In their Complaints, the plaintiffs asserted that the defendants intentionally exposed them to known specific unsafe working conditions by failing to protect them from methane gas/explosion risks and hazards. Specifically, the plaintiffs alleged that the defendants failed to install or utilize methane gas detectors/monitors around the perimeter of the rig floor and substructure areas; failed to perform a single examination of the worksite to identify the presence of hazardous materials such as methane gas; failed to submit a supplemental casing plan which set the casing at the required depth; failed to use explosion proof lighting on the well pad; failed to control ignition sources near highly flammable gases; failed to halt operations and evacuate the well site; failed to ensure the use of flame retardant clothing (FRC); failed to provide Plaintiffs proper training; failed to conduct proper personal protective equipment (PPE) assessments; failed to ensure that Plaintiffs were properly trained and supplied with the proper personal protective equipment (PPE); failed to maintain at least one person who was adequately trained in blowout prevention on the well site; failed to properly supervise, operate, and control the well; and failed to provide blowout prevention and well control equipment.

In addition, the plaintiffs alleged that permit holder: (1) negligently, recklessly, and inaccurately reported the coal seam depth in the well work application permit, and (2) failed to set the casing at a maximum depth of one hundred feet (100 ft.) below the coal seam depth or nine hundred feet (900 ft.).

The plaintiffs sought damages for severe and permanently disabling personal injuries and psychological injuries; medical bills; lost wages and benefits; future lost wages and lost earning capacity; lost household services; pain and suffering; mental anguish; permanent physical impairment; loss of capacity to enjoy life; annoyance and inconvenience. The Complaint also sought damages on behalf of the injured workers' spouses for the loss of consortium of their husbands.

Fitzsimmons Law Firm PLLC is a personal injury litigation firm headquartered in West Virginia. The firm also represents clients in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and across the country. For over 35 years, the firm has successfully represented injured workers in a wide variety of claims including oil and gas accidents, drilling accidents, explosions, methane gas explosions, coal mining accidents, construction accidents, industrial accidents, and all other types of work injury claims. Through our representation, we have helped to improve safety and the working conditions for workers throughout West Virginia and the region.


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