5 Die in Fiery Oil Patch Crash

Explosion1-150x150On January 15, 2015, five employees of a nearby oil field died as a result of being involved in a multiple vehicle crash in South Texas. The five men ranged from 21 to 65 years old, and they are the latest victims of a shockingly large increase in traffic fatalities in the Eagle Ford Shale area. Experts have linked the escalating amount of accidents to the fracking and drilling operations that are becoming increasingly common throughout this portion of the state. Tragically, an increase in profits for some companies has left many families mourning their loved ones. A Texas truck accident lawyer can help them receive some financial restitution, but this could never make up for the loss of a life.

What Caused This Deadly Accident?

According to media reports, the catalyst for the four vehicle pileup was an oil tanker that lost control after hitting a pickup truck. The oil tanker fell onto its side at approximately 7 a.m. on U.S. 83, and two other vehicles slammed into it. The collision caused both of those vehicles to burst into flames, and five men who had been traveling together in a van were all pronounced dead at the scene. The driver of the pickup truck that was initially hit by the oil tanker survived the incident, but he is currently at the San Antonio hospital receiving treatment for burns that cover 80 percent of his body.

In a situation like this one, it is common for everyone involved to contact a local lawyer. For example, if a similar accident took place in Houston, any injured individuals would want to secure the assistance of a Houston personal injury attorney. Taking this step is the best way to recover medical expenses and any applicable lost wages.

Why Are Accidents Increasing in South Texas?

As previously mentioned, experts believe that the increasingly popular drilling and fracking industries are instrumental in the rise in deadly accidents within the area that is known as Eagle Ford Shale. Statistics back up this viewpoint, and it is shocking to discover just how many fatalities have occurred in the area. To make matters even worse, most of these accidents have involved the deaths of three or more people. In 2010, there were 72 deaths in Eagle Ford Shale that happened during an accident that met this criterion. By 2013, this number had ballooned to 148.

In many cases, truck drivers are involved in these fatal crashes, and this makes sense when you consider how many oil tankers and other large vehicles are needed to transport materials. Truck drivers are more likely to survive a deadly accident, but this leaves them needing to take steps to protect themselves legally. Lawyers throughout the state have become busier due to these incidents, including those who work exclusively as a Houston truck accident attorney.

What is Being Done to Improve Traffic Safety in Eagle Ford Shale?

The Texas Department of Transportation and local law enforcement officials are taking steps to minimize the amount of accidents that occur in the Eagle Ford Shale area. They have determined that U.S. 83 in Dimmitt and northern Webb counties has experienced the biggest upswing in traffic due to nearby drilling and fracking operations. This knowledge makes it easier to have a stronger police presence in place, and it also enabled the state to approve the improvement of road additions that could reduce accidents.

U.S. 83 and parts of U.S. 277 now have short-term passing lanes in place, and officials believe that this will minimize issues that are caused by slow-moving vehicles. In the meantime, it is important for anyone who is driving through the Eagle Ford Shale area to be extra cautious.

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DuPont May Have Been Exposing Workers to Lethal Chemicals for Years

texas-refineryGovernment agencies regulate the industry, but a Houston chemical plant accident can still occur. Executives with chemical plants may follow the agencies’ rules and regulations, but a Houston wrongful death in an industrial accident can happen. This may mean that there is negligence on the part of the government agency, the chemical plant or both. It also means that those affected need to hire a Houston industrial accident attorney to file a claim against those responsible for the accident.

An Example of One Company’s Failure

DuPont’s chemical plant in La Porte, Texas experienced a leak on November 15, 2014. As a result of this chemical leak, four plant employees lost their lives. On that day at 4 a.m., the plant began to leak methyl mercaptan into the air, and it took rescue workers two hours to contain the leak. Although people could smell the chemical in the air as far away as Sugar Land, the air was not deemed to be dangerous to humans.

Previous Leaks

The November 15th incident is not the first time that the plant leaked methyl mercaptan. Research into this matter showed that this plant has been leaking methyl mercaptan for several years.

The Failure to Report

The day of the accident, 23,000 pounds of methyl mercaptan escaped into the air. This number is much higher than the amount that has been released in previous leaks over the past six years, but authorities still considered past leaks to be “significant.” They were serious enough to be reported to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration or OSHA. The problem is that no one from DuPont ever did.

The Consequences of DuPont’s Failure to Act

The sobering truth is that maintenance workers who have been employed at the plant since the year 2008 may have been inhaling methyl mercaptan the entire time. As a matter of fact, officials with OSHA determined that the levels of methyl mercaptan present in the air would have surpassed the level that the agency deems to be unsafe for humans.

Sam Mannan of Texas A&M University’s Mary Kay O’Connor Process Safety Center weighed in on this issue. According to Mannan, if DuPont’s officials had shared their findings with him and his agency about their toxic leaks, those who died would possibly be alive today. He stated that if he had been given the chance, he may have been able to identify where the leak was coming from and fix it before the situation became deadly.

The Texas Commission for Environmental Quality’s Failure

There seems to have been another failure in this matter. Officials with the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality or TCEQ issued dozens of citations to the DuPont chemical plant for several emissions violations. In turn, the agency’s protocol is to notify government agencies like OSHA when officials encounter a problem that is outside of their control. Unfortunately, no government agency received notification of DuPont’s violations, so OSHA was unaware that a visit to the premises would be necessary. The last time the agency performed an inspection of the DuPont chemical plant was in 2007.

How the Safety Measures Failed

DuPont employees filed maintenance emission reports with the TCEQ that demonstrated the fact that the company had a problem with leaks. In response, TCEQ officials were supposed to monitor the plant more often. Also, the company would have been required to enact additional safety measures and provide their workers with more training. However, DuPont did not initiate these or any other protective measures while the leaks were occurring.

Although DuPont spent $18 million upgrading their equipment, clogs within the system remained. This led industrial hygienist Peter Dooley to state that DuPont did not do enough to keep its employees safe.

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Tracy Morgan’s Slow Recovery Highlights Dangers of 18 Wheeler Accidents

18-wheelers-150x132Tracy Morgan is known to millions for his stand-up comedy work and his appearances on television hits like “30 Rock” and “Saturday Night Live.” On June 7, 2014, however, Morgan attracted publicity for a far different reason when the limo in which he was riding was hit from behind by a tractor-trailer truck. Morgan’s friend and colleague, James McNair, was killed in the accident. Morgan himself sustained major injuries in the crash and is still undergoing rehabilitation for severe brain trauma. The actor-comedian is currently working with an 18 wheeler accident lawyer to pursue action against Walmart, the employer of the driver regarded as responsible for the accident.

A Long Road to Recovery

Morgan suffered a broken nose, fractured femur and broken ribs as a result of the crash. The injuries to his leg required surgery and continue to cause difficulty in walking. The brain trauma Morgan sustained in the accident has required months of rehabilitative work on cognitive functions, speech and motor skills. Tracy Morgan was recently spotted in a rare public appearance using a walker to navigate the sidewalks near his New Jersey residence. Jeffrey Millea and Ardie Fuqua were also critically injured in the crash and are facing similar difficulties in their recoveries.

Legal Actions Pending

The driver of the tractor-trailer, Kevin Roper, has already appeared in court and entered not guilty pleas on four counts of assault by auto and one count of vehicular manslaughter arising from the accident. Prosecutors allege that Roper had not slept in over 24 hours when the crash occurred and that this led to his failure to see and react to traffic stopped ahead. Morgan has also filed a lawsuit against Walmart on behalf of himself, Millea and Fuqua to recover damages. The legal action alleges that Walmart was negligent in managing drive time restrictions and did not take into consideration the distance Roper was required to travel to arrive at his job in Smyrna, Delaware, from his home in Jonesboro, Georgia. This long commute effectively extended the time Roper was required to drive for Walmart and led to driver fatigue that played a major role in the accident, according to the truck accident attorney retained by Morgan.

Catastrophic Injuries Not Uncommon

The size and weight of 18 wheeler vehicles can pose a serious threat to smaller cars and trucks on the road. The injuries sustained by Morgan, Millea and Fuqua are not unusual for these types of accidents. A similar incident occurred in Pasadena, Texas, on October 27, 2014, when an 18-wheeler rear-ended and rolled over a small sedan on Highway 225. Rescue workers spent hours in cutting the woman’s body from the mangled vehicle; traffic was shut down on a large stretch of Highway 225 for six hours. For survivors of these terrifying accidents, traumatic brain injuries, loss of limbs and paralysis are common. In many cases, driver fatigue and poorly maintained equipment are cited as contributing factors for accidents involving tractor-trailers. Morgan’s experience is far from atypical. His celebrity status, however, may lead to much-needed scrutiny of the dangers posed by these large trucks to other drivers on the road.

For those who have been injured or who have lost family members to 18 wheeler accidents, consulting with qualified Texas truck accident lawyers can provide a way to hold companies responsible for their negligence and can ensure fair compensation for ongoing medical expenses and recovery costs. Attorneys who specialize in this field of law can offer insights into the most likely contributing factors and can represent the interests of victims both in and out of court. Applying this type of financial pressure is often the only way in which families and victims can achieve closure on these devastating accidents and hold trucking companies accountable for the actions of their drivers.

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Train Repairs Made In California Were Often Not Needed

railroad-accidentsA subsidiary of Caterpillar, Inc. is facing numerous charges after allegedly unnecessarily replacing train parts and disposing of them in the ocean off of Long Beach, California. Progress Rail Services provides inspection and repair services to some of the most prominent railroad companies in the world. If the allegations prove to be true, they would show that the company engaged in activities that could directly or indirectly lead to FELA railroad accidents around the country. Needless to say, the resulting federal grand jury investigation has put the company in the hot seat and has caused it to lose many lucrative contracts. The repercussions for the railroad industry are sure to be considerable.

According to reports, including an in-depth article by the Wall Street Journal, employees at Progress Rail on Terminal Island in California were pressured to produce billable repair work based on the inspections they performed. While repairs were not necessarily, employees were rewarded with more pay; they were given preferential treatment and often received special recognition in the form of “employee of the month” awards and the like. In response to the pressure, federal prosecutors allege, workers often deliberately broke parts that were in good working order. Subsequently, many parts were then thrown into the ocean, which is in direct violation of numerous environmental laws.

FELA attorneys’ ears perked up upon hearing the news. After all, Progressive Rail is responsible for inspecting, maintaining and repairing trains and railroad equipment. The work they perform has a direct impact on the overall safety of that equipment and those trains. Interestingly enough, a few other employees from the company brought forth similar allegations in Florida a few years ago, and those claims were subsequently settled out of court. The results of the suits that were filed have been sealed and are not available to the general public.

For decades, the majority of railroad companies handled their own inspections and repairs. In an effort to cut costs and to maximize profits, many have taken to outsourcing the work to companies like Progress Rail Services. Since this practice has become widespread, incidences of derailments and other hazards have skyrocketed. Many major railroad companies, including BNSF Railway Co. and Union Pacific, have sued over these types of incidents in recent years. The situation regarding Progressive Rail Services is a whole other matter entirely but could go a long way toward explaining why safety has seemingly fallen by the wayside in the industry.

According to the report, Progressive Rail Services employees gouged train wheels, smashed brakes, yanked handles loose and otherwise caused damage to trains and equipment to ensure they had billable repair work to perform. They also engaged in “green repairs,” which means to replace parts that are working perfectly fine. Companies like Progressive are subject to random audits and inspections, so employees also had to find ways to get rid of the parts and other evidence. At least over on Terminal Island, they allegedly threw many train parts into the ocean to escape detection.

Why does this case matter so much? Primarily because companies like Union Pacific rely on third parties to ensure that their trains and equipment are in good, safe working order. The employees who handle such equipment every day are at increased risk of injury and death when these kinds of underhanded practices occur. Railroad companies’ top concern may be keeping costs low, but train accident lawyers’ top priority is protecting the rights and safety of railroad employees. Therefore, attorneys around the country are watching the case closely. It remains unclear what the outcome will be, but no matter how it plays out, these allegations will hopefully force major changes in the way railroad contractors conduct business.

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A Large Number of Oilfield Accidents Are Not Being Reported

personal injuryAccording to a study conducted by the U.S. Government Accountability Office in 2009, numerous workplace injuries went unreported by employers as a matter of routine. The report indicated that as many as two-thirds of all injuries on the job may not be reported to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Some of the reasons cited for these failures include fear of increased workers compensation costs and reducing the likelihood of receiving government contracts. The oil industry is especially prone to these lapses in reporting. For oilfield employees who have been denied workers compensation or have been otherwise penalized for injuries sustained on the job, consulting with a Houston industrial accident lawyer can often provide valuable assistance in managing medical costs and achieving a fair settlement.

The Human Cost of Non-Reporting

A recent article in the Houston Chronicle highlights the human costs associated with failure to report injuries in the oil industry. In September 2011, Mitch McNamee was injured after a fall on Nabors Rig 245, an oil rig in Alaska. The accident was witnessed by several co-workers and supervisors at the time, but it was never recorded in his personnel file or in the drilling logs maintained by his employer, Nabors Alaska Drilling. He received no medical treatment or evaluation until much later. McNamee continued to perform his duties for a few days until he began to show signs of disorientation and loss of memory. He was then transferred to another company location and was later terminated by Nabors. He did not file a formal report until two weeks after the accident and did not apply for workers compensation until much later. These factors may have affected the denial of McNamee’s claim. Today, Mitch McNamee is still unable to return to work and continues to suffer from the effects of this serious injury.

OSHA Expanding Reporting Requirements

Beginning on January 1, 2015, OSHA will begin requiring added reporting from all employers regarding work-related fatalities and injuries. Under the previous requirements, employers were required to report any work-related hospitalizations of three or more staff members as well as any fatalities related to work. The new rules require employers to provide added information regarding work-related injuries, including the following:

  • Any inpatient hospitalizations, regardless of the number of employees affected
  • All amputations
  • All injuries that result in the loss of an eye

While these new regulations would still not have covered McNamee’s particular case, they will provide added help for oil industry employees who suffer injuries on the job.

Protecting People in the Working Environment

For workers who are injured on the job, reporting the incident as quickly as possible is critical to ensure eligibility for workers compensation and coverage for medical expenses sustained as a result of their injuries. In the oil industry, some pressure may be brought to bear to suppress these reports. For example, McNamee was aware that bonuses were awarded for lengthy periods without reported accidents; this may have affected his decision to brush off the accident at the time and may have contributed to the deterioration of his physical condition over the long run. Reporting accidents promptly, however, is the best defense for workers who suffer injuries on the job.

Enlisting the help of an oil rig accident lawyer can be helpful for oilfield workers who have sustained injuries in the course of their regular duties. An experienced Houston work injury attorney can identify issues that may have contributed to the accident. Most importantly, however, oilfield employees should report any accidents and injuries promptly and should seek medical help as soon as possible. This can allow injured individuals to protect their rights to workers compensation and medical expenses and can reduce the physical damage caused by these potentially dangerous incidents.

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