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$5,200,000 Jury Verdict in Drilling Company Truck Accident (03-30-09)

A head-on highway collision caused by an oil and gas driller resulted in a $4 million settlement from the drilling company after a week and a half of trial in southwest Kansas.

Shamberg, Johnson & Bergman, Chtd., secured the settlement despite the drilling company’s assertions that its driver was not on the job at the time of the accident because he was driving home from work in his personal vehicle. The settlement came moments before a jury returned a $5.22 million verdict against the drilling company. The agreement avoids a lengthy appeal and allows the client quick access to the settlement proceeds.

In June 2005, 16-year-old Paul Logan Clark was driving himself and a friend north from Hugoton in Stevens County, Kan. A southbound pickup truck driven by the driller swerved across the centerline. The resulting collision left Mr. Clark paralyzed from the waist down and killed a 14-year-old friend who was in the passenger seat.

The bulk of the litigation and discovery focused on whether the driller was in the scope and course of his employment at the time of the accident, and thus, whether Murfin Drilling, Inc., his employer, was vicariously liable for his negligence. Murfin Drilling denied vicarious liability, even though it had signed off on worker's compensation benefits for its driver and crew members for injuries sustained in the collision.

Months before trial, Lynn R. Johnson and David R. Morantz moved for summary judgment on the scope and course issue, arguing that drilling industry custom and the fact that the driller was receiving mileage reimbursements for himself and his crew put him in the scope and course of employment while on the way home from a rig site. More importantly, the plaintiff’s counsel argued, Murfin should have been prohibited from arguing that its driller was not in the scope and course for vicarious liability after previously signing off on worker's compensation benefits for him, and implicitly recognizing that he was on the job at the time of the collision.

The trial court agreed and granted summary judgment on this issue in favor of Mr. Clark.