Won a Tenth Circuit ruling overturning a $4.2 million jury verdict against our oil and gas client.
Phathong v. Tesco
(10th Cir. 2014)
In a Tenth Circuit appellate victory, a WTO team led by Kendra Beckwith successfully obtained a complete reversal, remand, and entry of judgment in favor of our client, which was at the time a natural gas drilling company. The lawsuit stemmed from a 2005 accident in which a floor hand was injured on a drilling rig in northwestern Colorado. At the time of the accident, the worker was an employee of the company. Later that day, the company completed the sale of its entire drilling operations, including the rig, contract, and all its employees, retroactive to midnight.
The floor hand and his wife sued, claiming that the company had divested itself of its workers' compensation immunity through the retroactive sale and that its actions towards the worker were sufficient to support an award of punitive damages. The company asserted it was immune from suit under Colorado's Workers' Compensation Act because the company was the floor hand's statutory employer at the time of the accident.
At trial, the district court, on its own motion, took the statutory immunity question from the jury, exposing the company to a $4.2 million judgment, including punitive damages. On appeal, WTO argued that the district court had, among other things, erred in taking the matter from the jury and depriving the company of the statutory immunity to which it was entitled under the Act. The Tenth Circuit agreed. In a unanimous opinion, the court held that the evidence presented at trial conclusively demonstrated that the company was the floor hand's statutory employer and thus entitled to complete immunity from all claims. The Tenth Circuit remanded the case to the district court with directions to vacate the jury's verdict and enter judgment in the company's favor.
WTO lawyers Scott Barker and Kimberly Still assisted on the case.