Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Personal Injury
Kpiele-Poda v. Patterson-UTI Energy, et al.
In 2018, Mwande Serge Kpiele-Poda ("Employee") was injured at a wellsite while repairing a conveyor that activated and crushed his legs. While Employee's Workers' Compensation claim was still pending, he filed a petition asserting negligence and products liability against his employers, two wellsite operators, and the manufacturers and distributors of the conveyor. Ovintiv Mid-Continent, Inc. was named in the body of the petition but omitted from the caption. After the statute of limitations period expired, Employee amended his petition to add Ovintiv Mid-Continent, Inc. as a defendant in the petition's caption. A second amended petition added other parties. Ovintiv Mid-Continent, Inc. moved to dismiss arguing the claim was time-barred because the amended petition did not relate back to the first petition. Employee's employers also moved to dismiss arguing the Administrative Workers' Compensation Act and Oklahoma precedent precluded employees from simultaneously maintaining an action before the Workers' Compensation Commission and in the district court. The district court granted each dismissal motion and certified each order as appealable. The Oklahoma Supreme Court retained and consolidated Employee's separate appeals, holding: (1) the district court erred when it dismissed Employee's action against Ovintiv Mid-Continent, Inc. as time-barred; and (2) the district court properly dismissed Employee's intentional tort action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. View "Kpiele-Poda v. Patterson-UTI Energy, et al." on Justia Law
Spencer v. Valero Refining Meraux, LLC
In 2020, an accident, fire, and explosion occurred in the hydrocracker unit at a Valero Refining-Meraux, LLC refinery in Meraux, Louisiana. No significant levels of chemicals were detected as a result of the explosion. Multiple residents in the vicinity of the refinery filed suit for the negligent infliction of emotional distress. Plaintiff Brittany Spencer and her two minor children, Chloe LaFrance and Lanny LaFrance III, were at home sleeping when the explosion occurred. Their residence was approximately 2,000 feet from the epicenter of the explosion. Spencer and Chloe were unexpectedly awakened by a loud sound of unknown origin and a significant shockwave and vibration of unknown origin. Lanny was not awakened. The sound and/or shockwave shook Spencer’s bedroom window. Spencer went outside and observed a large flame of the fire coming from the refinery, and the sky was lit up. Almost immediately after the explosion, Spencer began to hear police vehicles, fire trucks, and ambulances as part of the emergency response that lasted for several hours. Spencer went back inside, and she and Chloe went back to sleep. On the morning of the explosion, Spencer and her children left their residence out of an abundance of caution and did not return until two days later. Spencer eventually returned to her normal sleep schedule, albeit with some trouble; she did not allow her children to play outside due to concerns for their safety. Thereafter, Spencer and her children began staying at their residence less and later moved away from the refinery in June 2020. Spencer, individually and on behalf of her minor children, and Lanny LaFrance, Jr. on behalf of his minor children, filed suit against Valero alleging damages for emotional distress, but did not allege physical injury, property damage, or financial loss. Valero appealed when a trial court awarded damages to plaintiffs for negligent infliction of emotional distress. The Louisiana Supreme Court found no Plaintiff met their burden of proving they were entitled to such an award, and reversed the trial court. View "Spencer v. Valero Refining Meraux, LLC" on Justia Law
Jarrod Johnson v. Water, Light, and Sinking Fund Commission of City of Dalton
Plaintiff alleged that toxic chemicals used during the carpet manufacturing process have been allowed to seep into the rivers that supply drinking water to communities near Dalton, including Rome, Georgia and the rest of Floyd County. On behalf of himself and a proposed class of water subscribers and ratepayers, he sued Dalton Utilities, a municipal corporation that operates Dalton’s wastewater treatment system, for violating the Clean Water Act and for creating a public nuisance. His lawsuit claims that Dalton Utilities has caused the City of Rome’s domestic water supply to be contaminated with dangerously high levels of toxic chemicals. The question before the Eleventh Circuit was whether Dalton Utilities is entitled to municipal immunity from Plaintiff’s nuisance abatement (injunctive relief) claim. The Eleventh Circuit denied Plaintiff’s motion to dismiss Dalton Utilities’ appeal for lack of jurisdiction. However, the court affirmed district court’s order denying Dalton Utilities’ motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s nuisance abatement claim on municipal immunity grounds. The court explained that at oral argument counsel for Dalton Utilities conceded that if Phillips is still good law, Plaintiff has properly alleged a Phillips kind of nuisance claim for personal injury. The court agreed and held that municipal immunity does not shield Dalton Utilities from Plaintiff’s nuisance abatement claim. View "Jarrod Johnson v. Water, Light, and Sinking Fund Commission of City of Dalton" on Justia Law
Loggerhead Holdings v. BP
Loggerhead Holdings, Inc., a holding company that owned a scuba diving cruise business, was one of many plaintiffs who brought suit against an oil company because of the explosion of an offshore drilling rig and the resulting discharge of a massive quantity of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Loggerhead’s claims were dismissed on summary judgment. The Fifth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. The court explained that Loggerhead had been able to continue operations for several years despite its fraught financial condition, and indeed despite reporting net losses on its taxes for the three years preceding the disastrous events of April 2010 in the Gulf. Whether it could have continued to survive, if not thrive, had the April events not occurred presents a fact question. Thus, the court concluded that a reasonable factfinder could find the requisite causal link between the Deepwater Horizon disaster and Loggerhead’s demise. Summary judgment should not have been granted. However, because Loggerhead was not able to offer more than Dixon’s allegations and an unsupported estimate — evidence “so weak or tenuous on an essential fact that it could not support a judgment in favor of the nonmovant” — the district court properly granted BP’s motion for summary judgment on the Section 2702(b)(2)(B) claim. View "Loggerhead Holdings v. BP" on Justia Law
Petro Harvester Oil & Gas Co., LLC, et al. v. Baucum
The crux of this interlocutory appeal was whether Plaintiffs, complaining of personal injury and property damage as a result of the alleged improper use of an oil-disposal well, had to exhaust their administrative remedies before the Mississippi State Oil and Gas Board (MSOGB) prior to proceeding on their common-law claims in the circuit court. Because the Mississippi Supreme Court determined the MSOGB could provide no adequate remedy for the Baucums’ personal-injury and property-damage claims, the Baucums were not required to exhaust administrative remedies before proceeding in the circuit court. View "Petro Harvester Oil & Gas Co., LLC, et al. v. Baucum" on Justia Law
Khosravan v. Chevron Corp.
Malekeh Khosravan appealed the denial of her motion to strike or tax costs with respect to the expert witness fees incurred by defendants Chevron Corporation, Chevron U.S.A. Inc., and Texaco Inc. (Chevron defendants) following the trial court’s granting of the Chevron defendants’ motion for summary judgment. Malekeh and her husband Gholam Khosravan brought claims for negligence, premises liability, loss of consortium, and related claims, alleging Khosravan contracted mesothelioma caused by exposure to asbestos while he was an Iranian citizen working for the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) at the Abadan refinery the Khosravans alleged was controlled by the predecessors to the Chevron defendants, Exxon Mobil Corporation, and ExxonMobil Oil Corporation (Exxon defendants). The trial court concluded the Chevron and Exxon defendants did not owe a duty of care to Khosravan, and the California Court of Appeal affirmed. The trial court awarded the Chevron defendants their expert witness fees as costs based on the Khosravans’ failure to accept the Chevron defendants’ statutory settlement offers made to Khosravan and Malekeh under Code of Civil Procedure section 998. On appeal, Malekeh contended the trial court erred in denying the motion to strike or tax costs because the settlement offers required the Khosravans to indemnify the Chevron defendants against possible future claims of nonparties, making the offers impossible to value; the Khosravans obtained a more favorable judgment than the offers in light of the indemnity provisions; and the offers were “token” settlement offers made in bad faith. The Court of Appeal concurred with this reasoning and reversed: "We recognize the desire by defendants to reach a settlement that protects them from all liability for the conduct alleged in the complaint, whether as to the plaintiffs or their heirs in a wrongful death action. But if defendants seek that protection through indemnification, they may well need to give up the benefit of section 998." View "Khosravan v. Chevron Corp." on Justia Law
Carolina Casualty Ins. Co. v. Burlington Ins. Co.
RW Trucking pumped fracking water from frac tanks at oil-well sites and hauled it away for disposal. Jason Metz worked as a driver for RW Trucking. When his trailer reached capacity, Metz turned off the pump and disengaged the hose. According to Metz, he then left a ticket in the truck of another well-site worker, David Garza. Metz testified that as he began walking back to his truck’s cab from its passenger side, and about sixty feet from the frac tanks, he flicked his lighter to light a cigarette. This ignited fumes and caused a flash fire that injured Garza (as well as Metz and another nearby RW Trucking employee). In this appeal and cross-appeal, the issue presented for the Tenth Circuit's review was which of two insurers’ insurance policies covered bodily injuries. Carolina Casualty Insurance Company and Burlington Insurance Company had earlier issued policies to RW Trucking. By design, the two policies dovetailed each other’s coverage. Each insurer contended that the other was solely liable to indemnify the insureds, RW Trucking and Metz, for damages arising from Garza’s bodily injuries suffered in the fire. After Burlington and Carolina jointly settled Garza’s claims, with each reserving its rights against the other, Carolina filed this declaratory-judgment action, contending that it had no duty to defend or indemnify RW Trucking or Metz, and seeking reimbursement of its paid portion of Garza’s settlement. On cross motions for summary judgment, the district court ruled: (1) that Carolina owed a duty to defend but not a duty to indemnify; (2) Burlington owed a duty to indemnify (and so implicitly, also a duty to defend); (3) that Carolina paid its share of the settlement as a volunteer, disabling itself from recovering its portion of the settlement payment from Burlington; and (4) that Carolina owed Burlington for half the total defense costs. After review, the Tenth Circuit reversed the district court as to the duty-to-defend and voluntary-payment issues, and affirmed on the duty-to-indemnify issue. The Court remanded with the instruction that the district court vacate its judgment granting Burlington reimbursement of half its defense costs. View "Carolina Casualty Ins. Co. v. Burlington Ins. Co." on Justia Law
Lexington Insurance Company v. Precision Drilling Company
In an earlier appeal, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Wyoming’s anti-indemnity statute would not defeat possible insurance coverage to an additional insured. In this second appeal and cross-appeal, the issue presented for the Court's review centered on whether the district court correctly ruled that additional-insured coverage existed under the applicable insurance policies; whether the district court entered judgment for the additional insured in an amount greater than the policy limits; and whether the district court correctly ruled that the additional insured was not entitled to prejudgment interest and attorneys’ fees. Ultra Resources, Inc. held a lease for a Wyoming well site. In January 2007, Ultra contracted with Upstream International, LLC under a Master Service Agreement to manage the well site. The Ultra-Upstream contract required Upstream to obtain insurance policies with a stated minimum amount of coverage for Ultra and Ultra’s contractors and subcontractors. To do so, Upstream obtained two policies from Lexington Insurance Company - a General Liability Policy (“General Policy”) and a Commercial Umbrella Policy (“Umbrella Policy”). Lexington issued and delivered the two policies in Texas. Ultra contracted with Precision Drilling (“Precision”) to operate a drilling rig at the well site. Precision maintained a separate insurance policy with Lloyd’s of London (“Lloyd’s”), covering Precision for primary and excess liability. Upstream employed Darrell Jent as a contract management of some Ultra well sites. Jent assumed that Precision employees had already attached and tightened all A-leg bolts on a rig platform. In fact, Precision employees had loosened the A-leg bolts (which attach the A-legs to the derrick) and had not properly secured these bolts. After supervising the pin removal, Jent had just left the rig floor and reached “the top step leading down from the rig floor” when the derrick fell because of the “defectively bolted ‘A- legs’ attaching the derrick to the rig floor.” Jent was seriously injured after being thrown from the steps, and sued Precision for negligence. Precision demanded that Ultra defend and indemnify it as required by the Ultra-Precision drilling contract. Ultra, in turn, demanded that Upstream defend Precision under the insurance policies required by the Ultra-Upstream Contract. The Tenth Circuit concluded the district court ruled correctly on each issue presented, so it affirmed. View "Lexington Insurance Company v. Precision Drilling Company" on Justia Law
BP Exploration & Production, Inc. v. Claimant ID 100281817
NBA player David West negotiated a contract with the New Orleans Hornets before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. West received the full $45 million amount specified in his contract, but still submitted an "Individual Economic Loss Claim" under the Deepwater Horizon Economic and Property Damages Settlement Agreement. The Claims Administrator for the Agreement awarded West almost $1.5 million in "lost" earnings.The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of discretionary review of the Settlement Appeal Panel's decision affirming the award and held that the district court abused its discretion in this case when the decision not reviewed actually contradicted or misapplied the Agreement. Under the circumstances, West expected to earn in the absence of the spill precisely what he did earn after it. Therefore, he did not suffer unexpected damages, and Exhibit 8A did not apply to him. The court also held that West did not suffer actual or unexpected "losses" or damages, because he earned exactly what he was entitled to receive under his contract. The court explained the fact that he received less money in 2010 than in 2009 did not mean he "lost" anything or was "damaged" in any way. Rather, it meant only that he agreed to a front-loaded contract, and he agreed to do so many years before the spill. View "BP Exploration & Production, Inc. v. Claimant ID 100281817" on Justia Law
Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance v. Woolman
Dennis Woolman, former president of The Clemens Coal Company, challenged a district court’s determination that Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Company didn’t breach a duty to him by failing to procure for Clemens Coal an insurance policy with a black-lung disease endorsement. Clemens Coal operated a surface coal mine until it filed for bankruptcy in 1997. Woolman served as Clemens Coal’s last president before it went bankrupt. Federal law required Clemens Coal to maintain worker’s compensation insurance with a special endorsement covering miners’ black-lung disease benefits. Woolman didn’t personally procure insurance for Clemens Coal but instead delegated that responsibility to an outside consultant. The policy the consultant ultimately purchased for the company did not contain a black-lung-claim endorsement, and it expressly excluded coverage for federal occupational disease claims, such as those arising under the Black Lung Benefits Act (the Act). In 2012, a former Clemens Coal employee, Clayton Spencer, filed a claim with the United States Department of Labor (DOL) against Clemens Coal for benefits under the Act. After some investigation, the DOL advised Woolman that Clemens Coal was uninsured for black-lung-benefits claims as of July 25, 1997 (the last date of Spencer’s employment) and that, without such coverage, Woolman, as Clemens Coal’s president, could be held personally liable. Woolman promptly tendered the claim to Liberty Mutual for a legal defense. Liberty Mutual responded with a reservation-of-rights letter, stating that it hadn’t yet determined coverage for Spencer’s claim but that it would provide a defense during its investigation. Then in a follow-up letter, Liberty Mutual clarified that it would defend Clemens Coal as a company (not Woolman personally) and advised Woolman to retain his own counsel. Liberty Mutual eventually concluded that the insurance policy didn’t cover the black-lung claim, and sued Clemens Coal and Woolman for a declaration to that effect. In his suit, Woolman also challenged the district court’s rejection of his argument that Liberty Mutual should have been estopped from denying black-lung-disease coverage, insisting that he relied on Liberty Mutual to provide such coverage. Having considered the totality of the circumstances, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded the district court didn’t err in declining Woolman’s extraordinary request to expand the coverages in the Liberty Mutual policy. “Liberty Mutual never represented it would procure the coverage that Woolman now seeks, and the policy itself clearly excludes such coverage. No other compelling consideration justifies rewriting the agreement— twenty years later—to Woolman’s liking.” View "Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance v. Woolman" on Justia Law