Attorneys

Attorneys meet outside the Pittsburg County Courthouse after jurors found National Oilwell Varco was partially responsible for the deaths of two men killed in the January 2018 well fire near Quinton.

McALESTER, Okla. — Families of two men killed in a Jan. 22, 2018, well fire near Quinton will receive a percentage of $10 million awarded to each from National Oilwell Varco, a Pittsburg County jury decided earlier this week. 

Jurors deliberated for less than three hours Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, before finding National Oilwell Varco (NOV) corporation partially responsible for the deaths of two of the five men killed in the gas well fire. The Houston-based corporation is a provider of equipment used in oil and gas drilling and production.

Attorneys for the families and estates of Josh Ray and Cody Risk claimed NOV largely was responsible for the incident due to an incorrect mud weight used in the well. Attorneys for NOV claimed throughout the trial three other companies — Red Mountain, Crescent Consulting and Patterson-UTI — were 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 later will be divided by percentage of fault determined, means 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 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 two attorneys giving 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 NOV was responsible and said Rumley “deliberately misled 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.

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James writes for McAlester News Capital, a CNHI News Service publication.

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