$4,855,000: Failure To Supervise Contractor Leads To Catastrophic Injury

CASE DESCRIPTION: A water well driller was seriously injured when his arm was caught in the spinning part of a machine that drills the wells.  There was an issue regarding whether or not the equipment was safe and whether the employer had knowledge that the subcontractor was using unsafe equipment.  The Plaintiff brought suit for his personal injuries and medical expenses.

RESULT:  $4,855,000.00 total settlement (plus waiver of claim for reimbursement of workers’ compensation benefits).

Orange County Water District (OCWD) hired Plaintiff’s employer, Beylik Drilling Company, to drill water wells to monitor water quality in ground water.  Beylik was awarded an annual contract to drill based on being the lowest bidder for the project.  Beylik’s equipment, including the drill rig used on this project, was in a run down and poorly maintained condition.  Beylik’s employees worked 12 hour shifts, 7 days a week on each project.  This allowed Beylik to make a profit on its “lowest bid”.

On July 16, 1991, Plaintiff was in the process of drilling when his left arm became caught in the “kelly”, the spinning part of the rig which powers the drilling mechanism.  He was pulled into the rig, his left arm was amputated at the shoulder, and he suffered cervical spine injuries which rendered him a quadriplegic.  The drilling rig was manufactured by Ingersoll-Rand Company.

Plaintiff argued that Orange County Water District (OCWD) negligently hired and continued to employ an incompetent contractor.  Also that OCWD had knowledge that the contractor was using poorly maintained and dangerous equipment, which presented a substantial risk of danger to its contractor’s employees.  OCWD had the power to shut down the job and require that safe equipment be used, yet failed to do so.

As to Ingersoll-Rand and Longyear Companies, they argued that this rig was defectively and dangerously designed due to its failure to guard the rotating Kelly and other moving parts.  If the rig had been adequately guarded, this accident would not have occurred. They also claimed there was a guard on the Kelly when the rig was manufactured, which was available.  However, the employer elected to jimmy rig a replacement part for the guard, which did not provide any protection.

OCWD contended that it was protected from liability by various Government Code immunities.  It also contended that it did not have actual knowledge that the part of the rig, which Plaintiff alleged was in disrepair, was in a dangerous condition.

TYPE OF CASE:  Personal Injury; Product Liability; Government Liability

INJURIES: Plaintiff’s left arm was amputated at the shoulder, and he suffered cervical spine injuries rendering him a quadriplegic.

DATE & LOCATION OF INCIDENT: On 7/16/97 at approximately 4:30 p.m. in the Santa Ana River, Santa Ana, CA.

Wylie A. Aitken
For Plaintiff – Anthony G.

Paul H. Burleigh
For Defendant – Ingersoll-Rand Company & Longyear Company

Paul Jacobs
Also Linda Bauermeister-Schlott
For Defendant – Orange County WaterDistrict