Safety and OSHA News

Jury awards $82.5M in workplace death lawsuit

Even though workers’ compensation is supposed to be the exclusive remedy for workplace injuries and death, lawyers will find a way to make someone pay even more, especially in the case of a fatality.

Example: Joshua Petrie was a plant operator at a natural gas processing facility in Texas owned by Quicksilver Resources.

On May 25, 2007, 27-year-old Petrie and another worker were trying to restart a hot oil heater.

After trying several times, they couldn’t restart the heater. They were unaware that gas had accumulated, and when Petrie tried to light the heater one more time, it exploded.

Petrie was found unconscious nearby. He never regained consciousness and died several hours later at a hospital. He suffered extensive injuries including blunt force trauma to the head, face, neck and back, and multiple rib and vertebrae fractures.

Quicksilver bought the plant from Hanover Compression L.P. The plant had been idle for two years. As part of the sales agreement, Hanover agreed to return the plant to operating order, which included installation of the heater that exploded.

Lawyers for Petrie’s estate argued that Hanover didn’t follow National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards for installation of the heater. Hanover argued the NFPA standards didn’t apply to this heater and that Petrie’s negligence caused the explosion because he failed to close one of the heater’s gas feed valves.

The jury sided with the arguments from Petrie’s estate. It found Hanover 90% responsible and Quicksilver 10% responsible. The jury also found gross negligence by Hanover, which accounted for $25 million of the verdict.

The jury awarded his widow, three young children (four-years-old and younger) and his father a total of $82.5 million.  Since Quicksilver had workers’ comp insurance, it wasn’t responsible for any actual damages.

It’s difficult to put a price on a human life. What do you think of the verdict amount? Let us know in the Comments Box below.

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Comments

  1. The family may deserve some compensation for their loss, but $82.5 million is a bit excessive. If the company intentionally violated rules resulting in a worker fatality, the company’s execs should be punished by serving time in prison. When the company is bypassing safety to save money, a large fine may be justified, but that still doesn’t mean the family deserves it.

  2. Curious how much the lawyers made on this deal. $82.5 million is probably 10 times the amount the family would make in the rest of their life. How can that amount be justified, Lawyers get 20%, taxes get 40% which leaves the $33 mil. It seems this excessive amount is trying to prove a point. Are the companies fighting to lower the award. It will be interesting to see after the next several years of fighting in courts how much the family ends up with and how much money the lawyers made?

    Who actully wins this battle. The family lost a husband, father and income. The company lost business and repair expenses, but the lawyers gained wealth

  3. I agree with the first comment (DDB2), $82.5 is a LOT excessive. I think reasonable compensation would be the amount of lost wages until the man retired. I just figured mine at my current salary for 20 years (which would make me 76) and came up with $900,000.

  4. I certainly beleive some compensation to the family is deserved, but $82.5 mil is quite too much. The company has a point, saying that Petrie’s negligence caused the accident. Did he have any life insurance? That’s what that is for. It is very much a tragedy that this family lost their father/husband, but we need to stop seeing the company’s as a money bag and pay for every injury that takes place, especially when that injury or death is the result of not following safety practices.
    Another question that would be relavent is: How much would Petrie have earned in his lifetime with this company? That might be a good starting point on determining how much compensation, adding in trauma to the family, etc…..

  5. Safety Steve says:

    Only $82.5M???
    Why is the father included in getting part of the award? Didn’t the guy have any brothers, sisters, cousins, grandparents, etc that should have benifited from this as well?
    I wonder how much the grieving lawyers got?

  6. Andrew W. says:

    Yes, 82.5 million may seem like too much, and likely is. However, that wife and those kids lost their husband/father due to negligence. Saying they should have the same dollar amount to what the lost family member would have made is silly. Since they lost the family member, I think it is only fair to make sure the wife is comfortable the rest of her life – never needing to work. After all, no one expects to be killed at work because of someone else’s short cuts. If the company went out of business, so what. The dead employee is out of business for good too, and a human life is way more precious than a profitable company. Let the company die, prosecute those who made bad decisions, and take excessive care of those who lost the loved one.
    When someone wins the lottery, we are all jealous and happy for them. They gave up a few bucks a week for hope. This guy lost his life, and his family got the lottery by a jury’s choice. I say good for the family – I am happy for them. I value life far more than any business I would work for or even own.

  7. It is hard to judge if the amount is appropriate as this story does not provide enough information other than 25 million was due to gross negligence. I do believe that having a jury system where everyday people decide is far more acceptable then formulated system that are set by politicians or people influenced by special interest get to decide. When people talk about caps or formulas that look at a person age and pay, I get nervous that they have drunk the cool aid. Once you reduce life to a formula business will use cost/ benefit analysis instead of Hazard Analysis. This is the world we work in. How much does is cost? What are the benefits or risk of paying for safety? I think once a company starts down that road they are heading for trouble and they should be nailed to the wall when they get caught. Because it wasn’t an accident, it was an outcome of their business model. A jury gets to listen to all the evidence and judge that company. If we really believe in a free market we have to let the market forces work. If one company is cheating at the employee’s expense then they should not be protected by Caps. If they go under, other responsible companies will come to take their place.

  8. Bob Whitaker says:

    Too high a reward for the worker’s family.
    His expectable remaining lifetime income including invested funds returns (interest/dividends/equity-growth) time a multiple of 2 to 3, maximum, is sensible.

    The remainder of the $82.5mm may be reasonable enough punishment for the transgressors, but should be put into a fund for support of other such unfortunate tragedies.

    With this outcome, I won’t be surprised if this family becomes the next sob story along the lines of Lotto winners who end up on skid row. People of limited means do not handle such money in sociologically responsible fashion.

    This is an all too typical case of filthy greed on the part of the lawyer – supported by the popular and pathetic victim mentality of our degraded society -but given the outcome being what it sadly is, I stand my ground that it will turn out unhealthy in every way for this now fatherless family. This mother will not be able to trust any suitor who jockeys for position as her next husband or “mate”.

  9. 82.5 million would not start to compensate me for the loss of my son or my father due to a companies negligence. But honestly I dont think there is a amount that could. A workplace “accident” is tragic, but is just that, an accident, however if my company’s quest for greed put me in a situation that directly brought about my death then it is no longer a accident. By creating a unsafe condition the company chose to put money over my safety. They gambled that they could profit out of my risk and they lost. I can only hope that my wife and children and yes , even my parents would be as well taken care of as these people have been.

  10. Chris Cordry says:

    I agree w/ Andrew W. and JR above. I wonder how the others would feel if it was their family member who died due to gross negligence on the part of an employer? I do agree w/ the first person’s comment about putting the execs that violated the rules in prison. That’s what needs to happen to many of the BP oil spill people. And the comment about “that’s what life insurance is for” is simply ridiculous! I’ll bet any amount he’s a republican.

  11. 82.5 is a lot of money. If you figure that he’ll make 1.1 million if he stayed with that company for 40 yrs. you are only accounting for the loss of his life. I would expect the same amount to go to my wife and kids each. I agree with the comment above regarding attny fee’s. These fee’s are driving the whole mess of workers compensation.

  12. Sandi – you figured 900,00 dollars correct? Take 20% of that for lawyers fees, $180,000.00. Then take another 40% for taxes. That amount is 360,000.00. The total is 540,000. Can you raise a family of three on 360,000 dollars. Good Luck. You can’t put a dollar amount on human life. We have to make those that choose to cheat the system pay for their mistakes, even if it’s in a monetary fashion. I hope that the wife and children can learn to be happy with 82.5 million. I bet if you were to ask them which they would rather have, I’m willing to bet they would say they would want their husband, father, son, best friend back.

  13. I agree that the settlement is high, how ever maybe it would make more sense to split the compensation, awarding 50% to the family, and forcing the company’s responsible to spend the other 50% on Safety and Compliance and training in an attempt to prevent another tragedy from occurring in the future.

  14. Wow, comments like “if the company went out of business so what”. Real nice. What about all the families that rely on that business for their income. That is exactly what is wrong with people today. “Its like winning the lottery”, are you crazy. When someone plays the lottery and wins, they don’t actually collect from the other players that don’t win, and leave them with nothing. I have no arugument with taking care of the wife and children, and yes they should be comfortable. But living a live of excess will not bring thier husband/father back.

  15. Sherye, you make a valid point–I forgot about taxes and lawyers fees. I maintain that the amount of lost wages is a place to start. Then start adding all that other stuff, which would include any medical expenses incurred, and you still don’t get 82 mil. Also, each year I will make a little bit more, so even taking into account any raises he may have received, I believe the settlement is still excessive. I also think lawyers take too much money. Maybe they wouldn’t have to spend to much money for law school if they didn’t have to learn “legalese.” Why can’t they have a flat fee for certain cases depending on how much time they have to spend on research, in court, etc.? Maybe someone who knows the law can answer that.

  16. I have to agree $82.5 Million seems excessive. But when you lookat the cimcunstances and do the math the award is not unreasonable. I allowed $100,000 per year for wages and benefits. Benefits would include health insurance whether the company covered it or a discount for group coverage it still is a cost benifit now lost. Any gains in retirement funds such as 401 K or IRAs is a benifit loss as well. With all that considered I think the 100K annually is a good round number. Taking in to account that retirement age is ever increasing I put it at 70 by the time the young man would of retired. 43 years X $100,000 = $4.3 Million. Add 10% per year for growth of investments and inflation to the year 2050 for $430,000. Total wages / benifits lost is $4.73 Million. Pain, suffering, loss? Ask the children that will not remember Dad how much a year that is worth? I think $100K per kid per year is not unreasonable. $400,000 x 63 years (90 year old life expectancy) = $23.2 Million. Totals so far is roughly $28 Million.

    The jury found and I agree the company was negligent. The gas valve should be automatic not manual (negligent). The company has blamed the worker since 2007.
    Award for negligence $25 Million.
    Total: $53 Million
    Lawyers are necessary evil to get this type of award. Leagl fees at 35% = $18.55 Million.
    Taxes at 20% = $10.60 Million.

    Total $82.15 Million.

    Loss of a Father, Husband, Son and a company not standing up………… PRICELESS

  17. The life expectancy was figured at 85 years average not 90.

  18. The answers above send a chill up my spine. Lottery winnings? Life insurance? Prison sentences for corrupt management? Then there is the spelling and grammar that makes me hope that none of you who answered before me are writing anything of any importance that will embarrass your employer and make you sound like you had a third grade education.

    Isn’t anyone sick of companies cutting corners and causing severe harm to their employees? While a death outweighs any other loss, what about the banks and investment companies that played fast and loose with our money and destroyed many lives forever? Can you name a single instance where a prison term caused the “above the law” attitudes to change? The only thing that gets attention is BIG financial payouts. The jury obviously had more information than we do and their verdict clearly says that these wealthy companies had absolutely no concern for the safety of this man or any other. When they say they’re sorry, it’s only because they got caught.

    Read the paper, read these websites, read your trade journals. Nothing is getting better and we as employees will continue to be put at risk until the verdict and settlement dollar amounts finally hit a nerve and cause a change in how these companies operate. The SOB who runs that mine that blew up and killed 29 miners still has yet to take responsibility or show any remorse despite many OSHA citations and many thousands of dollars in fines for past violations. Do you think a few years in prison will change this type of attitude? Money talks. Obviously, it’s not talking loud enough yet.

  19. There is no money that will bring that man back. Lawyers laugh all the way to the bank, taxes base receives some revenue, employer and other employees get punched in the gut, jobs are lost, and prices of goods and services get bumped up and as always the burden of all operating cost get passed to the consumer.

    Trial lawyers are scabs.

    82 million? Please give me a break. What a scam and racket that is.

    No wonder our economy is in the tanks.

  20. As i read these comments it is clear as to why this country is in so much trouble. The lawyers with this settlement only want to push harder for bigger settlements, the injured and family members in a death situation certainly are entitled to compensation, but if Peitre made 100,000 a year and didn’t spend a dime on taxes food, health costs, in otherwords kept every dime, he would work for 820 years before he reached 82 million dollars. Pretty sure you can raise a family. There is no replacing the loss, the children will be without a father, the wife without a husband, the losses are there and in my opinion there is no monetary value that can be determined. These settlements are out of control, it is what drives costs thru the roof. Accidents do happen, and not knowing all the results in this case, it is a tragic event that caused a man to lose his life. But if he slipped on his bathroom floor and died it would also be a tragic accident with very little compensation unless he had insurance. Then what?

  21. Actually Josh, I believe your analogy is flawed. You wrote: “When someone plays the lottery and wins, they don’t actually collect from the other players that don’t win, and leave them with nothing.” Yes, they do. The prize goes up based on how many bought tickets and a formula for income for the state. The losers get nothing. The risk to the people who purchase the tickets is the money they put up not their life. Can an employer gamble the employee’s money? How about the employee’s life? How easy it is to gamble with others life for your own winnings. How much is the CEO for BP getting after losing the life of the eleven lives and how about the lives of those who’s lively hood is from the Gulf? If a business goes under, yes their employees will lose their job unless the penalty included compensation for the employees. When the BP fire killed the people in Houston the families’ law suit made sure part of the suit award was directed to safety and to programs for the employees and the community. Yet BP learned nothing. Sometimes people want to align themselves with business because they want to believe they are like the rich. Wake up. What you want and what you are is two different things. Many businesses go under. We should not support business that cheat. Bring them back in line with good companies.

  22. Ken, nice break down.

  23. Jerry, I think you are putting the cart before the Ass. The business makes a decision, the employee dies. The lawyers don’t get to play until the employee died. Their function was to represent their client. They did not set the award, the Jury did. The Jury decided the amount based on everything they heard. How do you blame the lawyers? Put the Kool aid down. Thinking with a clear mind is quite liberating.

  24. Most of us may remember the Ford fiasco when gas tanks were installed at the back of Pintos. Rear-end collisions caused many deaths and horrible burns that changed lives forever. The jury trials were endless and expensive yet Ford refused to change the design of the car. Why? The answer was leaked by someone within the company. Ford executives had said in memos that it was cheaper to pay the settlements and jury awards than it was to move the gas tanks farther forward where they’d be more protected.

    When I read many of the posts here, the contributors were trying to figure out how much this man would have made in his lifetime and felt that was a sufficient amount to pay to a family that has lost its husband, father, and son – A HUMAN BEING! This explosion was not just an accident, it was an accident waiting to happen because the companies involved had the same attitude as Ford. Self-servng, arrogant, and bloodless.

    Take a minute and put yourself in the family’s place. Would some years worth of salary make the death of your spouse, child, or parent be enough for you if the death was completely preventable by better inspections or a $5 part that the cheap, careless employer didn’t think was important? Stop fuming about the lawyers for just a minute and really think about how you would feel if you lost someone who you not only depended on for support but who you really, truly loved? If you can say that you would be OK with an
    actuarial’s nice sanitary report based only on how much a life is worth using salary as the value, I’d say you’re as bad as the companies that cut corners and cause these deaths. Shame on you…

  25. Really Garry! That’s your analogy? If a person slips, falls and kills himself in his bathroom is not comparable to the article. One it’s not occupational. Two if a person chose not to buy a bath rug or mop his floor that is a condition he sets for himself. If he dies that is the price he pays for his poor judgment. At work the employer is deciding and the company is not paying anything, unless OSHA and lawsuits balance it out. The employee only reaps the rewards. If a business dies when an employee dies then they are balancing the decision evenly.
    Food for thought what about when they employer does everything right and the employee decides on his own to take an unacceptable risk. Should the employee pay? I say no.

  26. Oh come on, people. Jury awards for fatalities are not just about what the person could have earned in his/her lifetime! Is that all you’re worth to the world, just your income? Loss of a loved one is about a piece of your heart being ripped out, going through life without that one person you had counted on to grow old with. All those memories that you would have had, now will never be. This person will never see his children grow up, never see their accomplishments, never be there for their illnesses, never be there to comfort them. His children, at such young ages, will never know him. THAT’S what the high price tag is about. I’m not commenting on whether it’s excessive or not. Just making the point that loss of a loved one is not measured in lost income only!!!

  27. No price can pay for a persons life, nor can a life be replaced – therefore, I don’t buy that type of reasoning in any case. I am sure that family would trade 82.5M to have their husband and father back. As I tell my children – when it comes to punishment, you do not have options, once you get into trouble – it is out of your hands. Hanover and QuickSilver obviously made a choice not to do all they could do to protect their employees, and therefore were fighting back with butter knifes when one of their employees was killed as a result. That being said, I do believe that 82.5 million is akin to giving the death penalty to a jaywalker. I do not know how this jury arrived at this figure, but I suspect the loss of income for life for this family would not come anywhere close to that figure.

  28. Susan you are right on the money……..Just look at the huge companies and the constant negative incidents so like Ford and BP. And they are not alone for an Education check out the Chemical Safety Boards homepage.

    But then …… BP has such a GOOD Record for Safety!! Just as they take responsibility for their actions lets take a look at the past few years in the gulf area.

    -The Oil platform in the Gulf was issued Safety Commendations the day before the explosion, then the oil leak disaster. We still have no idea what long term effects there may be to human life and the bio-sphere.

    -A large BP refinery in Texas had had at least two explosions (that we know about) causing a loss of life for over 16 people. Well that was over a 10 year period!!!!!.HUH?

    -Then in the same refinery…… there was a toxic chemical release from equipment failure. The area releasing the chemicals could have been shut down by turning a compressor off. But to maintain productivity the compressor was allowed to operate and to release the chemicals into the atmosphere for 40 days. People in a nearby town are suffering ill effects now and the prognosis is they will be for years and years.

    *******Just a note for information:
    1. The explosions and chemical release into the atmosphere were from the same refinery in Texas……. and it is still not fixed.
    2. That refinery has been repeatedly cited and fined by OSHA for ongoing safety violations.

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