OILFIELD ACCIDENT ATTORNEYS
IN BILLINGS, MONTANA
Montana ranks 13th among all states in terms of non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses sustained, according to the website Workplace Injury Source. Meanwhile, the Montana Department of Labor and Industry pegs workplace fatalities at an average of 30 to 40 a year. The number was 38 in 2019, the last year for released statistics.
Oilfield operations in Montana are not only prone to workplace injuries, but to sometimes extreme injuries and even death because of the use of heavy equipment, explosives, and toxins. While someone can slip and fall in a serene office environment and suffer a neck, back or head injury, accidents in oilfields can result in burns, fractures, toxic exposure, traumatic brain injuries, and even amputations.
If you or a loved one has been injured in an oilfield accident in or around Billings, Montana, or anywhere in the state, contact Gerstner Adam Law. Our personal injury attorneys are experienced in every aspect of Montana’s workers’ compensation law and in the filing of lawsuits against negligent third parties responsible for your accident. We will meet with you, assess your situation, and help you recover the just compensation due you.
WORKPLACE SAFETY LAWS FOR OILFIELDS
Oil extraction and refinery operations are governed and regulated by both the federal government and the state of Montana.
On the national level, oil and gas extraction is covered by the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act and enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The OSH Act’s General Duty Clause covers every business in America, requiring employers to provide workers with “a safe workplace that does not have any recognized hazards that cause or are likely to cause death or serious injury.”
In addition, OSHA maintains an industry standard for oil and gas site preparation, as well as specific standards for the equipment, materials and substances used in an oilfield operation.
In the state, the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality regulate oil and gas extraction.
COMMON OILFIELD ACCIDENTS AND THEIR CAUSES
Oilfields are by their essence more prone to serious accidents than in office settings or manufacturing plants that are largely automated with well-established safety protocols in place. Causes of oilfield accidents include:
Equipment Failure: Oilfields utilize extremely large and potentially dangerous equipment. If the equipment isn’t maintained properly, or workers using it aren’t trained properly, serious accidents can occur.
Explosions and Fires: Flammable gases are used throughout oil sites by or in trucks, wells, and tanks. If a spark from any source ignites these gases, deadly fires and explosions can result.
Well Blowouts: A well blowout is an uncontrolled release of oil during drilling. This can become dangerous if the oil is somehow ignited.
Poorly Maintained Conditions: If the equipment used and the site itself aren’t maintained in safe conditions, accidents can result. Slips, trips and falls – the number-one workplace accident in the U.S. – can occur.
Working in Confined Spaces: Workers may be required to work in storage containers or storage tanks, where exposure to chemicals and toxins and even crushing can occur.
Hazardous Chemicals and Fumes: Toxic chemicals are used in oilfield operations, including benzene and sulfur dioxide. Exposure to any of these two or to any of the other substances used can lead to disastrous physical results, including leukemia, lung cancer, and cardiovascular risks, including heart attacks.
As a result of any of the above causes, or a combination of them, oilfield workers can incur debilitating injuries, including:
Head and Brain Injuries: Concussions and skull or facial fractures
Neck and Back Injuries: Routine heavy lifting can strain the back and neck
Bone Injuries: Dislocations, strains and fractures
Arm, Hand, Leg, and Foot Injuries: Sprains and fractures all the way to loss of the body part itself due to dangerous equipment being used
Burns: Fires and explosions can lead to first-, second- or third-degree burns
Soft Tissue Injuries: Tears of muscles or tendons due to repetitive movement
WORKERS’ COMPENSATION: WHAT TO DO IF YOU’RE INJURED
All employers in Montana are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance, which is a no-fault system that assigns blame to neither employee nor employee when an injury or illness occurs on the job.
Workers’ compensation may cover medical and rehabilitative expenses, along with lost wages. Lost wages are capped at two-thirds of your normal gross weekly income up to a state-imposed cap. The system may also cover you for any temporary or permanent disability you incur that prevents you from working.
When you are injured or fall ill on the job, you should first seek medical help and evaluation as needed, but you are also required to report the injury promptly to your employer, who will then inform the insurer providing workers’ compensation coverage. While you can choose your own doctor for your initial evaluation and treatment, the insurer will then assign you to a physician or medical group of its choice.
Workers’ compensation insurers are like any insurance company. They’re in the business to make money, so it’s not unusual for you to be given the runaround by the insurer covering your claim. You may be routinely requested to provide additional documentation or to justify why you are unable to work. They may even check your social media accounts to make sure you’re actually injured.
To deal with insurers and their demands, you need two approaches: (1) Document everything that has happened to you since the accident occurred, and (2) Hire an experienced personal injury and workers’ compensation attorney to guide, counsel, and represent you.
While workers’ compensation protects your employer from being sued, if a third party caused your injury on the job, you can file a personal injury lawsuit against them.
Examples of third-party claims include:
The manufacturer of a piece of machinery that malfunctions and causes your injury
The driver of a vehicle for another contractor who runs into you
The actions and negligence of an employee working on the same site for a different contractor that leads to your injury
While workers’ compensation will pay only for medical and related expenses and for lost wages (up to a maximum), with a personal injury lawsuit, you can also receive compensation for noneconomic damages such pain and suffering.
OILFIELD ACCIDENT ATTORNEYS IN BILLINGS, MONTANA
While you can file your workers’ compensation claim on your own, it might not prove to be easy sailing after that. The insurer’s claims adjusters are trained to low ball or deny any claim through any means possible, so they may make you jump through several hoops to prove your case. Don’t deal with them alone. Contact us at Gerstner Adam Law, and let us deal with the big insurance companies. We can also evaluate what happened to cause your injury for the potential of a third-party lawsuit, which may open up your compensation potential still further. We proudly serve clients in Billings, Glendive, Miles City, Sidney, and the rest of Montana.