A jury in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado has awarded Burg Simpson’s clients, Von Phathong and his wife Jennifer Phathong, more than $4.1 million in damages, after Mr. Phathong was seriously injured while working at a gas drilling site in Rifle, Colorado. (Von J. Phathong and Jennifer D. Phathong vs. Tesco Corporation (US) – Case No. 10-cv-00780-MSK-MJW)
In the early morning hours of December 13, 2005, Mr. Phathong, a Louisiana resident, was working as a roughneck on a drilling rig operated by Tesco Corporation (US), headquartered in Houston, on an EnCana Corporation site. Part of the operations that night was a change in the size of certain heavy-weight drilling pipe, which required the use of a threaded “crossover sub” to fit the two different-sized pipes together. The evidence showed that Tesco did not have the correct crossover sub on the rig, so a second crossover sub was brought to the rig by the Tesco tool pusher, the top supervisor for Tesco on the rig.
The Tesco tool pusher told the Tesco driller—the second highest Tesco supervisor on the rig— and told everyone else that the second crossover sub was the correct one, when he knew or should have known it also had the incorrect threads and would not work. The Tesco driller, who also knew or should have known the crossover sub was not the correct one, decided to use the powerful top-drive to try to force the threads of the crossover sub and the drill pipe together. The driller told the roughnecks to grab hold of the “tongs,” which is a very large and heavy wrench-type piece of equipment used to screw together the drill pipe. Von Phathong grabbed hold of the tongs as directed by the driller. The driller failed to have the roughnecks connect a safety line to the pipe or otherwise secure the bottom of the pipe. The driller then turned on the top drive, which made the unsecured drill pipe turn and swing back, resulting in Mr. Phathong’s body becoming trapped and crushed between the derrick leg and the heavy-weight drill pipe and tongs. Mr. Phathong sustained severe, life-changing injuries to his back and spine.
Despite the cause and extent of Mr. Phathong’s injuries being identifiable, issues of liability in this case were complicated by the fact that at the time of Mr. Phathong’s accident, his employer Tesco was in the process of selling its drilling business to Turnkey E&P Corporation. Unknown to Mr. Phathong or any other employee on the rig until years later, the contracts entered into between Tesco and Turnkey for the sale of Tesco’s entire drilling business were executed four hours after Mr. Phathong’s accident, but were to be retroactively effective to 12:01 a.m. on the day in question, three hours before Mr. Phathong was injured.
The jury ultimately found that Tesco was 90% at fault and EnCana Corporation was 10% at fault for Mr. Phathong’s injuries.
Evidence at trial demonstrated that Tesco’s safety was among the worst ever seen by its workers as well as by Plaintiffs’ drilling expert, who identified the Tesco drilling culture as one of “threats and intimidation.” Further, the investigation reports created by Tesco and EnCana after Mr. Phathong’s injuries contained false and inaccurate facts. As a result of the evidence at trial, the jury sent a clear message that unsafe practices will not be tolerated by awarding $1.5 million in punitive damages.
Michael S. Burg, attorney for Mr. Phathong said, “Today justice was done. I am grateful to the jury for their diligent work and finding in favor of our clients. Despite its efforts to absolve itself of blame, Tesco has been rightfully held accountable for their improper acts.”
Mr. Phathong was represented in court by Burg Simpson attorneys, Michael S. Burg, Holly Kammerer, Steven G. Greenlee and Stephen J. Burg.