Recently, the Houston Press published a story about Javier Delgado. In June of 2012, Delgado was welding at a crude oil storage terminal in Channelview. After working for around an hour at Oiltanking Houston, his welding torch came into contact with either vapor or oil that was still inside of a pipe. This caused an immediate explosion that decapitated Delgado. Although this was a truly tragic accident that claimed the life of a man with over 20 years of welding experience, it was not an isolated incident.
When OSHA investigated this accident, the only fine they imposed for the accident that claimed the life of a father of three children was in the amount of $14,000. While that tiny slap on the wrist felt like an insult to Delgado’s family, the Houston Press story goes on to explain that at the conclusion of a 6-week trial for a personal injury lawsuit filed against the company, jurors in Harris County awarded Delgado’s family members, as well as three other workers who were seriously injured in this accident, a total of $21 million.
How This Personal Injury Lawsuit Verdict Was Overturned
Unfortunately, that verdict was overturned before the victims and their family members could collect what was awarded to them by a jury of their peers. The specific law that was used to overturn the verdict was Chapter 95 of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code. What’s alarming to many safety experts about the way this law was used for this specific lawsuit is it was originally intended to protect landowners from frivolous lawsuits by contractors. As long as a landowner doesn’t have actual knowledge of hazardous conditions, an injured contractor can’t bring a lawsuit forward.
During the course of the appeals case, lawyers for Oiltanking Houston were able to prove that the company didn’t have actual knowledge of the hazardous conditions that killed Javier Delgado and seriously injured the three other contractors he was working with. However, other evidence showed that the company had disregarded safety measures that included periodically testing for hazardous gasses. Given that evidence and the fact that the original verdict was still overturned, the potentially dangerous precedent that could be set by this case is creating an impossibly high bar for holding companies accountable when a contractor is seriously injured or killed.
What This Means for Future Personal Injury Lawsuits in Houston
Although this recent ruling can be upsetting to anyone who can relate to Delgado’s story, it’s important to understand that it hasn’t eliminated personal injury lawsuits as method to secure fair compensation that’s owed. What it has done is reinforced the importance of working with a knowledgeable Houston personal injury attorney. If someone attempts to pursue this legal channel without experienced representation, their odds of success are very low.
And while a personal injury attorney in Houston can’t guarantee a successful outcome for a worker in the oil industry or any other field, they can ensure that their client gets the best shot at securing what they deserve.