A Houston jury has returned a $29 million verdict against Professional Directional Enterprises, Inc. (PDE), a provider of oil and gas drilling services, for the death of a Texas oilfield services worker killed in an industrial battery explosion at its Conroe, Texas, facility.
Garland Rickie Kelley died when a lithium thionyl chloride battery he was testing exploded on July 30, 2011. He ultimately died from injuries sustained in the explosion. Kelley, 38, was married and had three children.
The victim’s family contended the battery was improperly heated to extend its life for use in an oilfield downhole-drilling tool and was known to be defective, according to the Houston Press. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Kelley's wife and children, included claims of gross negligence and allegations that company officials did not collect much evidence from the site following the explosion. Much of what the company collected somehow went missing, according to the lawsuit, the media source reported.
Company officials claimed during a federal investigation of the incident that all its employees, including Kelley, had been given training materials for their work. The company also implied Kelley was to blame because he did not follow the alleged written instructions, according to court documents as reported by the Houston Press.
A separate federal investigation by OSHA led to about $19,000 in proposed penalties against the company after the agency wrote multiple serious and other citations. The company contested the violations, and the case was settled after the Secretary of Labor filed a lawsuit, with a reduced penalty.
The $29 million award, rendered on February 3 by a Harris County state court jury after a day of deliberations, consisted of $4 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages. Eighty percent of the blame was ascribed to PDE and the remaining 20 percent to the other defendant, Excell, which produced the battery. Excell settled before closing arguments.