West Virginia’s gas exploration industry is heating up. The Mountain State now produces more than 1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas each year, and with billions of dollars in foreign investment promised from Chinese energy companies, production is expected to skyrocket in the coming years. The rapid expansion of the West Virginia gas exploration industry is drawing unprecedented numbers of out-of-state workers looking for high-paying jobs.
While the number of jobs being created by foreign investment in the gas exploration industry is a boon for the West Virginia economy, the safety of these workers is a major issue that must be addressed. Just last week, a 44-year-old pipeline worker from Alabama was killed in a tragic workplace accident in Ohio County, WV.
The victim, Charles Eric Gohagan, was a welder for Meadville, Pennsylvania-based Pipeline Systems, Inc. Pipeline Systems was subcontracted by MarkWest Energy Partners, L.P. to install new pipe at an Ohio County work site.
In 2014, MarkWest and other industry players announced plans to invest $30 billion in infrastructure in the region over 10 years, including pipelines to “keep natural gas flowing out” of the Utica and Marcellus Shale plays.
At one of their installation sites outside of West Liberty, West Virginia, a track hoe (a tracked vehicle with an arm) was moving a section of pipe up a hill. Gohagan and another worker were holding ropes attached to the pipe to control its direction. Gohagan was holding the rope downhill from the vehicle when it slipped on a patch of ice, slid downhill and struck him. Gohagan was dead on arrival when the West Liberty Emergency Medical services arrived at the scene.
MarkWest issued the following statement regarding the incident:
At approximately 1:00 p.m. today, while installing new pipe on a right of way in Ohio County, West Virginia, a subcontractor was fatally injured. Federal and state regulatory agencies have been contacted. Work on this project was immediately suspended and MarkWest issued a safety stand-down on all similar work sites across the Tri-state region while we thoroughly investigate this tragic event. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family, friends and co-workers of the deceased.
Major West Virginia Pipelines Gained Approval in 2017
Late last year, federal regulators approved two major West Virginia natural gas pipeline projects that will transport natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale deposits to states throughout the Eastern Seaboard. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued full approvals for the Mountain Valley Pipeline and Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
These two are among a series of natural gas pipeline projects in the region that are meant to capitalize on the area natural gas boom. These projects are controversial, however, and have drawn opposition from local citizens, environmental groups, and other parties over health and safety concerns. Industry officials argue that pipeline and other infrastructure projects are badly needed to ensure that the natural gas extracted from these large shale deposits can be effectively distributed to other parts of the country.
At the end of the day, pipeline projects like Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast are likely to go forward, and there will be many similar projects in the coming years as foreign investment dollars flood the region. However, Mr. Gohagan’s tragic death is a major wake-up call to industry leaders about the urgent need to address the dangers of this type of work.
For example, whenever employees and subcontractors are working around heavy equipment, steps need to be taken to ensure worker safety, including accounting for adverse weather conditions. Other dangers gas exploration workers and their employers need to be mindful of include:
- Injuries and fatalities due to natural gas explosions;
- Trucking accidents involving vehicles going to and from gas and oil drilling sites;
- Transporting contaminated water from fracking activities;
- Other types of fracking accidents.
Out-of-State Worker Injuries and Fatalities: What Are My Legal Rights?
If you or a loved one is seriously injured or killed as an out-of-state worker in West Virginia, it is important to understand your legal rights. In nearly all cases, out-of-state WV workers and their families have the right to compensation when they suffer severe injury or fatality on the job.
There are two common legal avenues to recover compensation for a workplace injury or fatality:
- A Worker’s Compensation Claim: Most West Virginia employers are required to carry Worker’s Compensation insurance. If your employer has Worker’s Comp coverage, you may be eligible for benefits such as coverage for medical expenses, temporary partial disability, temporary total disability, permanent partial disability, and permanent total disability.
- A Third-Party Personal Injury Lawsuit: If the injury resulted from the negligence or recklessness of a party other than your employer (such as a contractor or subcontractor), you may be able to recover damages through a personal injury action. Compensatory damages may include medical expenses, lost wages (both present and future), pain and suffering, mental anguish, wrongful death damages, and in rare and extreme cases, punitive damages.
There are times when a personal injury action can be brought against a West Virginia employer with Worker’s Compensation coverage under the legal theory known as “deliberate intent”. For a deliberate intent action to be successful, the injury victim must prove the following:
- An unsafe working condition which presented a high probability of severe injury or death existed;
- Prior to the injury, the employer had actual knowledge of the existence of said condition;
- The unsafe condition violated a federal or state safety law, rule or regulation, or it violated a commonly accepted industry safety practice;
- After having actual knowledge, the employer intentionally exposed the worker to the unsafe condition;
- The employee suffered a severe injury or fatality as a direct proximate result of the unsafe working condition.
Contact an Experienced and Compassionate West Virginia Injury Firm
Injury cases involving out-of-state workers can be highly complex. There are deadlines that must be met to file claims, and it is important to have an experienced advocate by your side who has in-depth knowledge of state laws. Keep in mind also that these energy companies have armies of high-priced attorneys whose job is to minimize their liability in these types of cases, so you need a skilled attorney with a proven track record of successful results against even the most well-funded adversaries.
If you or someone close to you was injured or killed in a West Virginia gas exploration workplace accident, contact the aggressive and skilled personal injury attorneys at Bailey Javins & Carter today for a free case assessment. Call our office at (800) 497-0234 or through our online contact form.