Company found partially responsible for Oklahoma rig explosion deaths

COURTESY KOTV / An emergency official says five people are missing after an explosion at a drilling rig in eastern Oklahoma near Quinton.
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PITTSBURG COUNTY, Okla. (McAlester News-Capital) - Families of two men killed in a Jan. 22., 2018, well fire near Quinton will receive a percentage of the $10 million a Pittsburg County jury awarded to each.

Jurors deliberated for under three hours Monday before finding National Oilwell Varco was partially responsible for the deaths of two of the five men killed in the gas well fire.

Attorneys for the families and estates of Josh Ray and Cody Risk claimed NOV was largely responsible for the incident due to an incorrect mud weight used in the well. Attorneys for NOV claimed throughout the trial that three other companies — Red Mountain, Crescent Consulting, and Patterson-UTI — were the ones responsible.

Jurors found Red Mountain and Crescent Consulting 60% responsible for the deaths of each man, with Patterson-UTI 30% responsible. The jury found NOV to be 10% responsible.

The $10 million was awarded to each family, which will be later divided by the percentages of fault determined, meaning NOV will pay $1 million dollars to each family.

Along with assigning responsibility, the jury also found NOV did not act in reckless disregard of the rights of others.

“The jury has spoken,” said NOV’s lead counsel John Zavitsanos. “We very much respect their time. We respect the people of Pittsburg County who have been very hospitable to us over the last month. It was a very, very hard-fought case. Our heart goes out to both these families and I wish neither side was here and I wish this had never happened.”

David Rumley, the lead attorney representing the families, said he was pleased the jury did not find Ray at fault in the accident.

“We’re just pleased that they vindicated Josh with zero percent on Josh and the jury did what we asked them to do and that was to assign responsibility and that’s what they did.”

During closing arguments, Rumley asked the jury to award his clients $100 million dollars each and to find NOV 60% responsible for the deaths of the men with Red Mountain Energy and Patterson-UTI each 20% responsible.

Kevin Leyendecker, one of the two attorneys giving the closing arguments for NOV, told jurors the award for Josh Ray should be $8 million and $4 million for Cody Risk.

Leyendecker told jurors in Ray’s case, the jury should find Red Mountain 60% responsible, with Ray being 30% responsible for his own death due to having more than 40 minutes to shut the well in before the blowout occurred, with Patterson getting 10% of the blame.

In Risk’s case, Leyendecker asked the jury to find Red Mountain 60% responsible with Patterson responsible for the other 40%.

Rumley told the jury that NOV was responsible because the company designed the mud program that was unsafe.

“Ignoring offset well data was reckless and dangerous,” Rumley said.

Rumley said just because NOV claims other companies were negligent, doesn’t mean NOV should get a pass.

Zavitsanos told jurors there was no evidence shown that said NOV was responsible and said Rumley “deliberately mislead on the evidence because it’s not there.”

Jurors deliberated for two hours and 45 minutes before returning with the verdict following a 10 day trial in District 18 District Judge Mike Hogan's courtroom at the Pittsburg County Courthouse in McAlester.

(Copyright McAlester News-Capital)