Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
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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

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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

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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

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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

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The common law rule against perpetuities does not invalidate a grantee’s future interest in the grantor’s reserved non-participating royalty interest (NPRI).Lorene Koopmann and her two children sought declaratory judgment against Burlington Resources Oil & Gas Company, L.P. and Lois Strieber to construe a warranty deed by which Strieber conveyed fee simple title to a tract of land to Lorene and her late husband. Under the deed, Strieber reserved a fifteen-year, one-half NPRI. The Koopmans claimed that they were the sole owners of an NPRI as of December 27, 2011. They also asserted claims against Burlington, which leased the tract from the Koopmanns, for breach of contract and other claims. The trial court granted summary judgment for the Koopmans as to the declaratory action and granted summary judgment for Burlington on the negligence and negligence per se claims. The court of appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part. The Supreme Court held (1) the rule against perpetuities does not invalidate the Koopmann’s future interest in the NPRI; (2) Tex. Nat. Res. Code 91.402 does not preclude a lessor’s common law claim for breach of contract; and (3) the court of appeals properly entered judgment as to attorney’s fees pursuant to Tex. R. Civ. P. 91a. View "ConocoPhillips Co. v. Koopmann" on Justia Law

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Raymond, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, was born in 1947 and was a long-term resident of Middlesboro, Kentucky. He worked in the coal-mining industry for over 20 years and developed severe respiratory issues. Raymond, a non-smoker, sought benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act, 30 U.S.C. 901, but died while his claim was pending. Raymond’s claim was consolidated with a claim for survivor’s benefits submitted by his widow, Joanna. The ALJ awarded benefits to Joanna, on both Raymond’s behalf, and as his surviving spouse. The Benefits Review Board affirmed. Zurich, the insurer of Straight Creek Coal, sought review. The Sixth Circuit denied Zurich’s petition, upholding the ALJ’s conclusions that Zurich failed to rebut the presumption of timeliness, that Raymond had worked for at least 15 years in qualifying employment, and that Raymond had a total respiratory disability. Raymond worked only in surface mines or coal-preparation plants during his career; the ALJ properly relied on 20 C.F.R. 718.305(b)(2) and determined whether Raymond’s mining employment was “substantially similar” to underground mining. View "Zurich American Insurance Group v. Duncan" on Justia Law

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Samantha Hall was diagnosed with leukemia; she attributed the disease to a ConocoPhillips refinery’s emissions of a chemical known as benzene. Hall lived near ConocoPhillips’s refinery in Ponca City, Oklahoma. Roughly two decades later, she developed a form of leukemia known as “Acute Myeloid Leukemia with Inversion 16.” Liability turned largely on whether benzene emissions had caused Hall’s leukemia. On the issue of causation, the district court excluded testimony from two of Hall’s experts and granted summary judgment to ConocoPhillips. After review, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed because: (1) the district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the expert testimony; and (2) expert testimony was necessary to create a genuine issue of material fact on causation because of the length of time between the exposure to benzene and the onset of Hall’s disease. View "Hall v. Conoco" on Justia Law

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Samantha Hall was diagnosed with leukemia; she attributed the disease to a ConocoPhillips refinery’s emissions of a chemical known as benzene. Hall lived near ConocoPhillips’s refinery in Ponca City, Oklahoma. Roughly two decades later, she developed a form of leukemia known as “Acute Myeloid Leukemia with Inversion 16.” Liability turned largely on whether benzene emissions had caused Hall’s leukemia. On the issue of causation, the district court excluded testimony from two of Hall’s experts and granted summary judgment to ConocoPhillips. After review, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed because: (1) the district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the expert testimony; and (2) expert testimony was necessary to create a genuine issue of material fact on causation because of the length of time between the exposure to benzene and the onset of Hall’s disease. View "Hall v. Conoco" on Justia Law

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In 2013, Frank Benedetti, an employee of Schlumberger Technology Corporation, was working on an oil rig near El Reno, Oklahoma, when he slipped on an icy platform and fell more than thirty feet down a stairwell. Benedetti sued Cimarex Energy Company, the owner and operator of the well site, and Cactus Drilling Company, the owner and operator of the oil rig, for negligence. Cimarex moved to dismiss pursuant to 85 O.S. 2011 section 302(H), which provided that "any operator or owner of an oil or gas well . . . shall be deemed to be an intermediate or principal employer" for purposes of extending immunity from civil liability. The district court granted the motion to dismiss, and Benedetti appealed. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. Pursuant to the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s decision in Strickland v. Stephens Production Co., 2018 OK 6, ___ P.3d ___, the Supreme Court concluded section 302(H) of Title 85 was an impermissible and unconstitutional special law under Art. 5, section 59 of the Oklahoma Constitution. Subsection (H) was severed from the remainder of that provision. View "Benedetti v. Cimarex Energy Co." on Justia Law

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An employee of a trucking company was killed while on the job at an oil-well site. The employee's surviving daughter brought a wrongful death action against the owner and operator of the well site, Stephens Production Company. Stephens Production Company moved to dismiss the case pursuant to 85A O.S. Supp. 2013 sec. 5(A), which provides that "any operator or owner of an oil or gas well . . . shall be deemed to be an intermediate or principal employer" for purposes of extending immunity from civil liability. The district court denied the motion to dismiss, finding that section 5(A) of Title 85A was an unconstitutional special law. The trial court certified the order for immediate interlocutory review, and the Oklahoma Supreme Court granted certiorari review. The Supreme Court concluded that the last sentence of section 5(A) of Title 85A was an impermissible and unconstitutional special law under Art. 5, section 59 of the Oklahoma Constitution. The last sentence of section 5(A) was severed from the remainder of that provision. View "Strickland v. Stephens Production Co." on Justia Law