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Charleston firm sees increasing oil and gas injury suits

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Charleston lawyer Bobby Warner said his firm Warner Law Offices has seen more oil and gas-related injury cases while seeing fewer coal-related injury lawsuits. 

Warner said in the past two years, the firm has handled at least 10 cases involving explosion and fires and other cases involving injuries such as burns, broken bones and paralysis. A significant portion come from North-Central West Virginia, Warner said.

"We still handle a substantial amount of work with injury related to coal mining," Warner said. "In the past two years, we have seen a decrease in those particular cases, though I've seen a substantial increase in oil and gas cases." 

Some of the more recent cases his firm has handled involved nine people who sued NiSource and its subsidiary Columbia Gas over asserted damages sustained from last year's gas pipeline explosion in Sissonville. 

All but one ended up settling their claims.

Filed July 29, the seven suits all listed the defendants as Columbia Gas Transmission LLC, NiSource Gas Transmission and Storage Company, NiSource Midstream Services LLC, NiSource Energy Ventures LLC, NiSource Corporate Services Company, William Christian, Jack Whitmire Jr., Mitchell Thomas, Daniel Herpin and John Does 1-10.

All suits alleged negligence to all defendants, willful, wanton, reckless conduct as to all defendants and negligent training, management and/or supervision.

Plaintiffs Tina White, Darell Sigmon, Lorie Estep, Dorma Harrison, Shelby McMillion and Amy McMillion and her two minor children have reached confidential settlements. 

The case brought by Margaret Johnson will go forward with litigation. In her case, Johnson said she was sitting in her Sissonville Drive home when the pipeline ruptured. 

In her suit, she said as soon as she saw flames around her home, she ran barefoot across her front deck to her car, sustaining burns and blisters in the process.

When she got to her car, the suit continues, she reached out for the hot door handle but jerked her hand away from the heat, causing the tendons in her thumb to be injured, later requiring surgery.

After the filing of these suits, Columbia Gas released the following statement in response:

"Since the incident in Sissonville, W.VA., took place, Columbia Pipeline Group has settled with and provided compensation to over 40 families impacted. Our legal and insurance teams continue to work with families — and in some cases, their personal attorneys — to settle any remaining claims. As we have since the moment this incident occurred, we are committed to working with those families in a fair and reasonable manner. Columbia took immediate action following the incident in Sissonville to ensure that basic essentials, including temporary housing, food and transportation were provided to the affected community. 

In addition to attending to local families, in the hours, days and weeks after the incident, we partnered with the regional office of the Red Cross — to tap into their special expertise, to provide additional support for those in need. Again, our legal and insurance teams will continue to work with families to settle the remaining claims in a fair and reasonable manner."

Warner's firm also recently settled a Harrison County case against Frontier Drilling and Antero Resources. In this case, Joseph Davenport was working on one of the rig sites when a power tong struck him and knocked him off, causing him to have a severed spinal cord. Davenport alleged the reason this happened was because the drill was not working properly. 

The companies settled for $12 million, which Warner said is one of the largest single-plaintiff settlements this year in West Virginia.