WV Negligence, Deliberate Intent, & Workers Comp (Case Study)

The Chaffin Luhana LLP team recovered a significant settlement for the widow of an out-of-state seismic drill operator who was tragically killed while operating a drill buggy that his employer had modified. The drill operator was crushed to death by a drill buggy he was tracking back from a drilling site for an out-of-state drilling company.

Chaffin Luhana was able to prove that the drill operator’s employer significantly modified the drill buggy from its original condition, and in doing so, failed to include a number of required safety devices, including a rollover cage that complied with industry standards.

Chaffin Luhana took on the case after another law firm in Texas had unfortunately advised the widow that they believed there was no case because her husband was not wearing his 5-point harness system when operating the drill buggy.

Despite this potential defense, Chaffin Luhana took on the case and filed it on the eve of the statute of limitations expiring.

Chaffin Luhana was able to show that because of the nature of the drilling operations, and the drill operators being required to enter and exit the drill buggies throughout the day for purposes of drilling seismic holes, the operators regularly failed to wear their safety harnesses, the employer knew they failed to do so, and the employer failed to enforce the harness work rule.

Another difficult issue in the case was determining what exactly caused the rollover at the location on a mine site in West Virginia. Chaffin Luhana gained access to the location, cleared the site, and with its engineers, were able to determine that the buggy tripped over a stone on a hillside after a tree had fallen on its path, and without headlights which the employer failed to install, and the impending darkness, the drill operator was unable to see the rock which caused the buggy to trip and rollover, which is depicted in the below animation.

Drill Buggy Rollover Reconstruction Animation

Because of Chaffin Luhana’s willingness to take on this complicated case involving the intersection of product liability law, deliberate intent statutory construction, workers compensation bars, multi-state employers and rollover reconstruction, the firm was able to obtain a very substantial confidential settlement on the eve of trial for the drill operator’s widow. And, Chaffin Luhana was able to provide her closure and assurance that the rollover was not her husband’s fault.

Chaffin Luhana obtained the recovery against all parties involved including under negligence against the landowners, under strict liability against the product manufacturer, and under West Virginia’s deliberate intent statute against the out-of-state employer. Chaffin Luhana also successfully overcame a number of additional defenses in the case including a claim by the employer that the WV deliberate intent statute did not cover the drill operator because he was allegedly only a “temporary worker” in West Virginia.