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Oil Rig Explosion Injures Workers, Causing Severe Burns. Lawsuit Filed for Personal Injury Suffered

According to a recent article in the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, a lawsuit seeking compensation for pain, medical expense and loss of income was filed in Northwest District Court in Williston, ND against seven companies on behalf of three men who sustained second degree burns and third degree burns when an oil rig exploded in late July.

The workers, all from North Dakota, were bringing up drilling pipe on a rig for their employer, Cyclone Drilling Inc. when gas escaped the well, causing an explosion and fire. Andrew Rohr, 53, and Timothy Bergee, 53, were hospitalized for well over a month. The lawsuit says Rohr has burns over 60 percent of his body, also suffered septic shock and now has heart problems. Bergee has burns covering 80 percent of his body, and a compromised immune system has caused life-threatening pneumonia, the suit says. The third worker, Jeff Morton, 39, of Stark County, is being treated on an outpatient basis for significant burns to his arms, said their attorney, Robert Hilliard of Texas.

“These men have all been put through hell. Two of our clients have more than half of their bodies covered with burned flesh. The third has had his arms horribly burned,” Hilliard said. “The bottom line is that six different companies failed to protect human lives [in order] to turn a buck.”

The suit says the oil rig toppled during the blaze, and oil, gas and debris burned for several days. A specialized well fire control unit was brought in to control the fire.

The lawsuit names Continental Resources Inc., as operator, along with the well’s majority owner Pride Energy Inc.; M-I SWACO Inc.; Noble Casing Inc.; Superior Well Services Inc.; Panther Pressure Testers; and Warrior Energy Services Corp.

Hilliard said resolution before trial is possible. In oil-industry cases, “juries all over the country, for injuries much less severe than these, have made awards for over $50 million,” he noted.

The suit alleges that Continental Resources and Pride Energy rushed the operation, failed to prepare an adequate well plan, and failed to control down-hole conditions with mud and cement. The suit says Continental and Pride failed to ensure the rig had adequate blowout preventers to protect the workers. The suit also says that M-I SWACO failed to provide mud capable of holding pressure inside the drill hole, and failed to provide a properly trained mud engineer.

In drilling operations, drill mud is injected as counter pressure against gas and volatile compounds as the drill pipe is pulled up.

The suit also alleges that Noble Casing’s pipe plan was negligently designed and that both Superior Well Services and Warrior Energy Services Corp. provided negligent cement programs for the well and the pipe used in the rig’s drilling processes. The suit also alleges that Panther failed to properly test the well, or notify the drilling contractor that the collars around the pipe weren’t completely closing.

The attorney said that Cyclone Drilling is not named in the suit because state law prohibits suing employers, who are covered under Workers Compensation, unless the employee is killed.

The suit seeks compensation for pain, medical expenses, mental anguish, loss of future earning capacity, physical impairment, disfigurement, and in Rohr’s case, loss of spousal consortium. No specific dollar amount was named in the suit, and the companies had 20 days to respond.

Continental Resources’ spokesman Brian Engel said the company acknowledges the tragic nature of the injuries suffered by the men, but had no comment on the lawsuit. He said that Continental is conducting its own investigation into the explosion and will report to OSHA, the federal health and safety regulator.

Engel noted that the well, which lies below the Bakken formation and is anticipated to be a top producer in this area of North Dakota, is “undergoing remediation.”

If you or someone you know does suffer a severe burn injury or a smoke inhalation injury, you should call Kramer & Pollack LLP in Mineola, New York so that the personal injury attorneys in that firm can determine whether another party has legal liability for injuries suffered, and if the injured party has a solid legal case.