AZA Beats the Odds for Energy Company in Tragic Oklahoma Explosion
January 29, 2020
McALESTER, Okla. – Following three weeks of grisly testimony about a tragic 2018 oil rig explosion that killed five, jurors nevertheless found that AZA client National Oilwell Varco (NOV) was only 10 percent responsible. The jury found other companies that had already settled out of the case for significant amounts were 90 percent at fault.
The devastating accident was the industry’s deadliest since the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. The lawsuit was brought by two of the surviving families.
The jurors who returned this verdict, well below the settlement offered by Houston-based NOV pre-trial, were subjected to horrific photos of the bodies, medical examiner testimony about the likely pain felt by the victims, and a courtroom packed with often crying children. Prominent Corpus Christi personal injury lawyer David Rumley, famous for garnering eight-figure verdicts, represented the families left in the lawsuit. At one point seven of the 12 jurors were crying themselves during the emotional testimony about that terrible day.
Lawyers for the families asked the jurors for $200 million from NOV. Before trial, NOV offered to settle the case with the two families for substantially more than the jury verdict requiring NOV to pay only $2 million. That is only one percent of what the plaintiffs’ lawyers sought.
The well was owned by Red Mountain Operating, which the jury found 60 percent responsible for the tragedy. The rig was owned and operated by Patterson-UTI Drilling Company, LLC. NOV provided the drilling mud used in the operation and one on-site worker.
NOV lawyers argued that the company had a very limited role in the operation, and NOV employees had not been authorized to make any of the decisions that led to the tragedy. The jurors agreed.
“The jury has spoken,” said lead counsel John Zavitsanos, a co-founding partner of AZA. “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 of these families and I wish neither side were here, and I wish this had never happened.”
Mr. Zavitsanos tried the case with AZA lawyers Kevin Leyendecker, Michael Killingsworth, and Jared Doster. AZA also worked with Jon Stephenson of Jon Stephenson Law of Houston and Oklahoma lawyers Jeremy Beaver and Robert Gum.
The case is Julie Smith, et al. v. Red Mountain Energy, LLC, et. al., No. CJ-2018-60, in the Pittsburg County Court of District Judge Mike Hogan.
AZA, or Ahmad, Zavitsanos, Anaipakos, Alavi & Mensing P.C., is a Houston-based law firm that is home to true courtroom lawyers with a formidable track record in complex commercial litigation, including energy, intellectual property and business dispute cases. AZA is recognized by Chambers USA 2019 among the best in Texas commercial law; by U.S. News – Best Lawyers’ Best Law Firms as one of the country’s best commercial litigation firms for eight years running; was named 2019 Litigation Department of the Year by Texas Lawyer; and was previously dubbed by Law360 a Texas Powerhouse law firm. National corporate counsel named AZA one of the country’s best in client service among law firms serving the Fortune 500 and 1000.