Working in the oilfield can be an incredibly lucrative profession; however, it is very dangerous. The fields are highly regulated by federal and Texas state laws, which create guidelines for a safe working environment. However, accidents happen all too often, especially after a too-long shift with improperly serviced equipment. When accidents happen on the oilfield, workers can suffer serious injury—even death.
Even as industry officials and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration endeavor to create safer workplace guidelines, fatalities at oilfields increased between 2017 and 2018.
Why are fatalities increasing on a national scale?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, the number of fatalities in the oil and gas extraction industry rose from 81 in 2017 to 94 in 2018. While this is a small margin, fatalities have been increasing in this industry since 2016.
Oil production in the United States rose significantly—nearly 25%—between 2017 and 2018. Likely, an increased quantity of work and more demanding production deadlines contributed to the heightened fatality rates in 2018. In a field that is notorious for hard labor and long hours, this is no small matter for oilfield workers and their families.
What is happening at the state level here in Texas?
Texas, the largest oil-producing state, may surprise oil workers with its fatality numbers. Statistics at the state level seem to break the national trend of worsening fatality rates. In 2017, there were 534 fatal occupational injuries in Texas related to this industry. In 2018, there were 488, which is 46 fatal accidents less than the prior year. This is a positive change, perhaps demonstrating that safety measures at worksites are truly improving conditions when followed.
An oilfield may be a dangerous work zone, but oil and gas extraction workers have the same rights to safety as any other worker—including the right to compensation when injured on the job.
Injuries Sustained on the Job in the Oil and Gas Extraction Industries
To be sure, working in the oil and gas extraction industries can be dangerous, and there are many hazards associated with working this type of job. For starters, workers in the industry have to be around large and dangerous equipment that can malfunction or otherwise break down. Many workers in the oil and gas extraction industry also have to work from high places, and the potential for serious fall injuries exists.
Injuries that oil and gas workers suffer while they are at work can lead to long-term medical treatment and sometimes a permanent disability. Workers who suffer injuries may need to seek treatment at an emergency room, which can lead to hospitalization, surgery, and other intensive treatment. They may also need to undergo physical therapy treatment for a significant time.
Common injuries include:
- Head and brain injuries
- Injuries to the neck and back
- Spinal cord and paralysis injuries
- Broken bones
If you suffered any of these injuries in an accident while you were working on an oil and gas site, you need experienced legal representation and advice. The San Antonio oil and gas lawyers at the Wyatt Law Firm can determine if you meet the criteria to file an injury claim. If so, we can assist you with every step of the process.
Many Oil and Gas Workers Do Not Survive Their Injuries
As mentioned, hundreds of oil and gas workers suffer fatal injuries on the job. Whether a worker dies immediately from their injuries or following treatment attempts, their deaths cause emotionally and financially stressful losses for Texas families.
According to OSHA, some common fatal accidents in the oil and gas extraction industry include:
Motor vehicle accidents
Any type of motor vehicle crash can be fatal, and thousands of people lose their lives in such accidents each year in Texas, including nearly 3,900 traffic deaths in one recent year alone. Oil and gas workers must operate many types of vehicles and machines, and they all have the potential to crash and result in life-threatening injuries.
Struck-by, Caught-in, or Caught-between accidents
There are many moving parts to oil and gas extraction sites, and things can fall, swing, or otherwise move forcefully in the path of a worker. This can lead to the worker getting hit by a heavy object, causing fatal head or spine injuries. They might also get a body part caught in a piece of machinery or smashed between two heavy objects or materials. This can lead to crush injuries or amputations that can be fatal.
Explosions and fires
Anyone who spends any time on oil and gas worksites knows that explosions and fires are a particular risk in the industry. These can happen due to blowouts or from other causes, but they can be deadly to workers in either situation.
Oil and gas workers in the vicinity of an explosion or fire might suffer fatal head injuries, burns, amputations, or other catastrophic injuries. These can happen due to flame, smoke inhalation, getting hit by shrapnel, and more.
When people have to regularly work from high places, they can fall a long way, even with safety equipment and procedures. Falls from heights can result in multiple traumatic injuries, including potentially fatal head trauma and brain injuries, spinal injuries, internal injuries, and more.
Some oil and gas industry duties involve climbing into tight spaces with few ways out, including mud pits, sand storage containers, and petroleum storage tanks, among others. While in these confined spaces, workers face many serious threats, such as asphyxiation, toxic exposure, or the ignition of flammable substances. If a worker cannot escape the confined space, they can easily suffer fatal injuries.
The industry utilizes many types of hazardous chemicals that can cause life-threatening illnesses or immediately fatal exposure. These can include byproducts of tar sand, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, hydrogen fluoride, PAHs, HF acid, and other carcinogens. Exposure might cause fatal poisoning within minutes or might cause a terminal illness, such as cancer, that leads to the death of an oil and gas worker.
There are, of course, other types of fatal accidents that can occur. No matter how your close family member died while working an oil and gas job, you want to learn about your family’s legal rights.
Seeking Compensation after a Fatal Oil and Gas Accident
In most states, workplace deaths will lead to death benefit claims through the workers’ compensation system. While some Texas employers have workers’ compensation coverage, many do not. Even if your loved one’s employer has workers’ compensation insurance, the death benefits from this type of claim can be limited. In either situation, you want to learn about all of your options to seek compensation from an oil and gas lawyer.
Another source of compensation for many families who lose a loved one is filing a wrongful death claim.
Texas law defines wrongful death as a death that happens due to:
- The negligent acts of another party
- Medical malpractice
- Intentional acts of another party, such as violence
The general principle behind oil and gas wrongful death claims is negligence.
In two main situations you can file a wrongful death claim following a fatal oil and gas industry accident:
- The employer does not have workers’ compensation coverage, and the company negligently caused the fatal accident.
- The employer does have workers’ compensation coverage, and the company’s gross negligence caused the fatal accident.
- A negligent third party caused the fatal accident.
Employer negligence might include violating safety procedures, inadequate training of employees, failing to mitigate workplace risks, and more. Third-party liability can include manufacturers of defective equipment, other drivers in motor vehicle accidents, careless contractors, and other situations in which someone not associated with the oil and gas employer causes the accident and fatality.
A wrongful death claim is separate from any workers’ compensation case, and these can happen simultaneously if there is workers’ comp coverage available. A third-party claim can provide financial recovery for greater losses than a workers’ comp death benefits case, so your family should always look into this possibility.
We know that at this difficult time, the last thing you should be doing is legal research into your rights. That is why we provide free case evaluations for families like yours. Our legal team listens to what happened and can advise you of the best options to seek legal recourse and justice.
We also know that this time can stress you and your family financially, as you just lost the financial support of your loved one. This is why we handle cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that you never pay a dime unless we successfully win compensation for you. Then, the compensation comes from your settlement or award, so you never need to have any money out of pocket.
How a San Antonio Oil and Gas Attorney Can Assist
There are many ways that an experienced San Antonio injury lawyer can assist you following the tragic loss of your family member who was an oil and gas worker. First, our team can meet with you to discuss the facts and circumstances surrounding the fatal accident or illness and determine if you are eligible to pursue a wrongful death claim. If you are eligible, we can file a claim for you against the responsible company and its insurance company.
We gather all the evidence of liability for your loved one’s death, which can require highly complex and technical investigations. Our experience handling oil and gas cases means that we have a network of experts ready to assess any given situation and provide their expert opinion. Often, this is necessary to prove liability for your loved one’s death.
Next, we can determine who can file the wrongful death claim.
Texas law limits this to:
- The surviving spouse of the deceased oil and gas worker
- Surviving biological or adopted children of the deceased
- Parents of the deceased (except in gross negligence claims against employers with workers compensation)
When one or more of these parties files the claim, they can do so on behalf of all the other eligible family members, or everyone can file together (if eligible due to age, as minor children cannot file a legal claim themselves).
If none of these parties pursue a wrongful death claim, the individual the court appoints as the estate’s personal representative can bring the claim on behalf of the wrongful death beneficiaries.
When we advise who can file the claim, we then determine the value of your claim. This depends on the specific losses that your family suffered as a result of the death.
Some losses include:
- Loss of earnings – This refers to the wages the deceased person was set to earn if they had not died when they did. This can be a much higher number if a younger oil and gas worker dies rather than when someone close to retirement age dies.
- Loss of services and support – These losses involve the practical support the deceased provided to the family, which can include household chores and maintenance, child care, and more.
- Lost inheritance – Such losses cover the difference between the current inheritance amount and the inheritance amount that the deceased likely would leave behind had they lived their expected lifetime.
- Loss of love and companionship – This is the intangible community and comfort that the deceased can no longer provide to enrich the lives of their close family members.
- Pain and anguish – Finally, family members can seek financial recovery for the grief and mental pain they suffered due to the untimely accident and death.
Once we value your claim, which can be a challenging task, we file the appropriate claims. These can be filed directly with insurance companies or in civil court. Whichever avenue we take, our legal team handles every step of the process.
Sometimes, an oil and gas company, third party, or an insurance company will try to deny liability for your loved one’s wrongful death. We know how to respond to such denials and disputes of your claim. We can provide additional evidence or arguments to support your claims of liability or represent you in court if the case goes to trial.
When you trust the experienced San Antonio oil and gas lawyers at the Wyatt Law Firm to handle your wrongful death case, you can rest assured that we will zealously advocate for the compensation that you and your family deserve during every phase of your case.
Call a San Antonio Oil and Gas Attorney About Your Rights Today
On-the-job injuries from defective machinery and equipment, as well as from other accidents, are an unfortunate reality of working in the oil and gas industries. If you or someone you care about has suffered an injury while working on the job, you need knowledgeable and experienced legal representation in your corner every step of the way.
The skilled legal team at the Wyatt Law Firm will be by your side in your oil and gas wrongful death case from beginning to end, advocating for your legal interests and pursuing the monetary benefits and other compensation that you need and deserve.