For those who love working outdoors, meeting great people, and making good money, Bakken oil rig workers and North Dakota oilfield drivers have some of the best jobs around. Unfortunately, these lucrative jobs come with a catch. North Dakota oil field jobs rank among the United States’ most dangerous occupations.
The number of oil and gas excavation workers injured or killed in the Bakken shale play is one of the highest in the nation, and the number of fracking vehicle operators injured in and around Fargo, Williston, Bismarck, Minot, and elsewhere in North Dakota is equally disturbing.
Most injured North Dakota pipeline operators, rig workers, oil truck drivers, derrick hands, and other crew members know that they may have a right to collect financial compensation when injured on the job. Yet, many victims end up settling for way less than they deserve - or lose their chance to collect money entirely.
If you or a family member has been injured or tragically killed by a negligent oil and gas company, contractor, fracking equipment manufacturer, or another party, this article can help you understand your legal rights, the North Dakota oilfield injury claims process, and how to maximize your financial compensation.
How Common Are North Dakota Oil Field Accidents?
U.S. oil and gas resources are important assets for our nation, generating billions of revenue dollars each year for our federal and state governments and creating millions of lucrative jobs for American families. According to data from the American Petroleum Institute (“API”), the oil and gas industry employed 10.3 million U.S. citizens and contributed $1 trillion to the U.S. economy in 2015 alone.
North Dakota plays a major role in this picture. Since Stanolind Oil drilled the first well on Henry Bakken’s farmland back in 1953, the Bakken Formation has made North Dakota the nation’s second-largest crude oil-producing state next to Texas.
By December 2019, North Dakota’s Bakken region was producing over 1.5 million barrels of oil per day, boasting 48,000 kilometers of petroleum pipeline, 15,740 oil wells, and 62 rigs across the state.
Numerous oil and gas companies and landowners are taking advantage of this valuable resource, exploring and drilling in 18 counties across western North Dakota.
North Dakota Bakken Oil Reserve Counties
- Billings County
- Bottineau County
- Bowman County
- Burke County
- Divide County
- Dunn County
- Golden Valley
- Hettinger County
- McHenry County
- McKenzie County
- McLean County
- Mercer County
- Mountrail County
- Renville County
- Slope County
- Stark County
- Ward County
- Williams County
Most North Dakota residents are connected to the oilfield in some way. Job Service North Dakota data estimated the industry employed 35,800 North Dakota workers in 2018. According to a recent study by North Dakota State University, jobs in North Dakota’s oil and gas industry are becoming more stable – with temporary and long-term job numbers equaling out for the first time in 2015, and long-term job numbers overtaking temporary jobs in 2016-2018.
Fortunately, as the Shale Revolution increased production, the industry worked hard to improve safety measures. According to API’s 2008–2017 Workplace Safety Report, oil and gas worker injury rates have fallen 41% over the past decade – even though, during that same time period, the industry doubled its workforce. In 2017, the rate of job-related nonfatal injuries for the oil and gas industry was 1.7 per 100 full-time workers, compared to a rate of 2.8 for the entire U.S. private sector.
Williams Attorneys have led the charge in holding oil and gas companies responsible for deaths and injuries in the Bakken for the last 10 years those results have made the industry reexamine safety The good news is, injury rates for U.S. oil and gas industry workers are the lowest they have ever been. The bad news is, serious oilfield injuries and death still occur. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that the fatality rate in the oil and gas extraction industry remains an average of seven times higher than among U.S. workers in general (25.1 deaths per 100,000 workers each year compared with 3.7 per 100,000 per year).
According to the CDC, there were 92 fatalities in the U.S. oil and gas industry for 2015 through 2016. During this time, the U.S. average land-based and offshore rig count was 1,487 (6.1 deaths per 100 rigs for the two-year period). Thirteen of those 92 U.S. fatalities occurred in North Dakota (average rig count is 58).
There is still much work to be done to improve safety in the oil and gas industry. Until then, numerous North Dakota workers and their families will suffer tragic losses due to workplace safety violations, improper training, flawed supervision, and other forms of company negligence.
Injured parties and their families have a right to collect financial compensation for these losses, including medical expenses, lost wages, loss of future earning capacity, disability and disfigurement, pain and suffering, and wrongful death compensation. Knowing how to maximize this compensation is key.
What Causes Bakken Oilfield Accidents?
Most rig workers, truck drivers, excavators, miners, oil and gas operators, pipeline workers, well site engineers, and other crew members are extremely cautious on the job, applying every known safety practice. But a majority of Bakken worker accidents aren’t the worker’s fault.
Instead, oil and gas exploration and production companies and other parties cause accidents when they fail in their duty to keep the working environment safe. Damaged equipment, scant safety training, lax supervision, and shoddy truck repairs cause serious injuries and loss of life each year.
Certain oil and gas jobs are more dangerous than others. According to CDC data collected for 2015-2016, well servicing jobs resulted in the majority of fatally injured oil and gas workers (58%), with drilling operations having the second-highest number of fatal injuries (20%).
Of 92 total U.S. fatalities reported for the oil and gas industry in 2015-2016, 21 occurred during well-servicing, intervention, or workover operations, 15 during production operations, 10 during drilling operations, five offshore, four during waste fluid treatment and disposal, and three during flowback.
Most worker fatalities during this time period were the result of vehicle incidents (28%). Contact injuries (crushes, strikes by falling objects) made up 24% of fatal injuries. Explosions made up 14% of fatal injuries. Exposures to harmful substances (hydrogen sulfide (“H2S”), hydrocarbons, or carbon monoxide) made up 8%, falls 7%, and electrocutions 3%.
Many Bakken oil field accidents involve:
- Blowout preventer failures
- Chemical fires
- Defective drilling equipment, valves, and sensors
- Drilling rig collapses
- Exposure to toxic sulfur hydroxide, carbon monoxide, radiation
- Falls from drilling platforms, masts, and oil derricks
- High-pressure line and rotating wellhead injuries
- Oilfield transportation collisions
- Pipeline explosions
- Refinery fires
- Trench collapses
Oil field accidents can lead to any number of debilitating injuries, including traumatic brain injury (“TBI”), severe burns, post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), permanent disfigurement, neck and spine injuries, hearing loss, bone fractures, blindness, and amputations. In most cases, maximum financial compensation is critical to achieving full recovery and quality of life.
North Dakota Oilfield Vehicle Accidents
Statistically, oilfield vehicle drivers and operators of equipment haulers, service trucks, sand trucks, oil tankers, hot oil trucks, swab rigs, vacuum trucks, frac water haulers, winch trucks and service vehicles have some of the most dangerous jobs in the industry, making up 28% of all oil and gas worker fatalities.
Many times, these accidents aren’t the driver’s fault. Negligent oil companies and contractors cause thousands of injuries and deaths each year by:
- Permitting inexperienced/underqualified drivers to operate vehicles
- Ignoring federal and state vehicle safety regulations
- Failing to provide functional personal protective equipment (“PPE”)
- Failing to provide sufficient driver training
- Performing shoddy truck repairs
- Performing substandard vehicle maintenance
- Allowing driving shifts longer than 14 hours
- Pressuring drivers to skip breaks
- Providing outdated, damaged vehicles or equipment
Many oilfield driver accidents occur while the vehicle is parked. Drivers can be crushed or fall while repairing, maintaining, loading, or unloading their trucks.
While driving, imbalanced loads can cause dangerous truck turnovers. Fatigue from working overtime causes many oilfield vehicle and tanker accidents. Leaky flammable material trucks can cause explosions in even minor collisions.
When an employer’s negligence contributes to an injury, the responsible company owes the driver financial compensation.
Bakken Oilfield Fall Accidents
An average of six oilfield workers die from falling each year, with North Dakota, Texas, and Oklahoma reporting high fall fatalities. According to CDC data for 2003-2013, 52% of oilfield worker deaths involved falls from at least 30 feet.
Data from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (“NIOSH”) shows the oil and gas workers with the highest risk of falling are those doing physically demanding, repetitive work that involves focused concentration.
Another cause of oilfield falls is miscommunication during vehicle or equipment movement. Sixty percent of oil and gas worker deaths from falls occurred during well drilling activities. The most oilfield fall deaths happened with falls from the derrick board.
- 35% from derrick board
- 13% from rig floor
- 8% from derrick ladder
- 5% from offshore rigs
- 5% from stabbing board
Data shows that derrickmen who are inserting or pulling pipe from the wellbore on the derrick board are in the most danger of falling. Forty-four percent of falls causing death happened while rigging up and down and tripping pipes.
- Rigging up / down 22%
- Tripping pipe 22%
- Maintenance 6%
- Welding 5%
- Stabbing 5%
- Retrieving sucker rods 3%
- Retrieving tools from scaffold 2%
In 86% of fall death cases, oilfield workers were using protective harnesses. But in 63% of cases, the harness wasn’t anchored to anything. In 29% of fall deaths involving harnesses, the harness itself failed. Oil workers weren’t wearing the harness correctly in 3% of the fall death cases.
Oil and gas companies must supply functional harnesses and full harness training. Workers should not be given damaged harnesses. Derrickmen and drillers must learn to conduct both visual and verbal checks of all harnesses and lanyards before starting drilling operations.
If a company fails in its duty to keep workers safe, and that results in injury or death, the injured worker or surviving family members deserve financial compensation.
Bakken Pipeline Accidents
Pipeline work is inherently dangerous. Bakken pipeliners spend their days maneuvering thousand-pound joints, operating heavy equipment, troubleshooting high-pressure leaks, and navigating the oilfield. All require a focused mind and safe practices.
Unfortunately, accidents aren’t usually the pipeline worker’s fault. Oil companies may skimp on safety training, fail to properly maintain and repair equipment, or bypass other important safety measures.
Oilfield pipeline work has a fatality rate 3.6 times higher than the average U.S. worker. Injuries happen while clearing land, hollowing out trenches, blasting, loading excavators, moving heavy pipe on sidebooms, maintaining equipment, directing traffic, and restoring land. Collapsing pipe loads cause many injuries and deaths, as do pipe leaks, spills, fires, and explosions. Pipeline workers are often out in remote areas, without quick access to emergency response teams.
North Dakota Refinery Injuries and Chemical Plant Accidents
We continue to meet oil and gas workers suffering from severe burns, PTSD, permanent disfigurement, and amputations from chemical plant fires, explosions, and fume leaks – most of which are preventable.
Many chemical plant accidents are caused by:
- Using impure, contaminated materials (coal dust)
- Incomplete worker safety training
- Failing to maintain electrical equipment
- Faulty boiler repair and maintenance
- Using inaccurate chemical quantities
- Failing to conduct regular facility inspections
- Improper chemical storage
- Using outdated or corroded equipment
- Skipping regular emergency drills
Oil refinery owners and chemical plant management should be taking all reasonable steps to mitigate risks. When a company’s negligence leads to a worker’s injury or death, the company may be held liable for extensive damages.
What Is the Payout for Bakken Oil Field Injury Lawsuits?
Workers’ compensation will pay some medical expenses and lost wages, but it doesn’t cover your total expenses. Recovery is limited, usually based on a percentage of your income, and it doesn’t cover pain and suffering or emotional distress.
Equally as important, workers’ compensation doesn’t cover punitive damages, which can total much more than the amount of your actual losses and function to dissuade the defendants from continuing their dangerous behavior.
For these reasons, many injured oilfield workers choose to file a civil lawsuit and secure the maximum possible compensation.
Winning a North Dakota oilfield injury lawsuit can mean collecting financial compensation to cover both economic damages and non-economic damages.
- Lost wages
- Medical expenses (past and current costs related to injury)
- Property damage
- Pain and suffering
- Estimated future medical expenses
- Rehabilitation costs
- Future lost wages
- Mental anguish, anxiety or depression
- Loss of earning capacity
- Loss of consortium (companionship)
- Disfigurement or disability
- Caregiver costs
In addition, if you have lost a loved one in an oil field accident, you may be entitled to significant compensation via a wrongful death lawsuit or survivor claim. Family members or legal heirs of deceased oil field workers can collect financial compensation for:
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Loss of financial support
- Loss of parental care
- Loss of companionship / consortium
- Loss of quality of life
- Pain and suffering of the deceased
In calculating future medical expenses, the a life care planner will consider the cost of estimated hospital and doctor visits, procedures, and medications throughout the rest of the injured party’s lifetime. In addition, the life care planner will consider how much in-home care, medical treatment, and rehabilitation will be required. The life care planner will also estimate the injured party’s ability to return to work at the salary they were paid prior to the accident and whether their future earning capacity will be affected.
For pain and suffering, the jury may examine to what extent your injuries have interrupted your daily routine. Courts also look at what level of emotional distress the specific injury or accident would cause to the victim and their family members.
To achieve the maximum available financial compensation for your oilfield injury case, you must hire an experienced North Dakota attorney who specializes in oilfield injury and wrongful death cases. A lawyer who will get you to the right experts for medical and life care planning. Focus on lawyers with proven track records of big verdicts and settlements in North Dakota who understand the landscape and how to achieve results.
Are There Time Limits on North Dakota Oilfield Injury Lawsuits?
Typically, an injured worker has six years from the date of the accident or injury to file a civil claim for financial compensation [N.D. Cent. Code Ann. §28-01-16(5)]. Family members and legal heirs of those who have lost their lives in an oilfield accident due to company negligence have just two years to bring a wrongful death claim [N.D. Cent. Code Ann. § 28-01-18(4)].
Generally, the longer you wait to file a claim, the less evidence you may have to prove your case. Extensive evidence is needed to prove even the most apparent cases of company negligence.
Valuable witness statements, photos, and security camera footage need to be collected as soon as possible after an accident in the oilfield to preserve what could be the most important component of a case.
Witness memories last only so long. The accident scene will be cleaned up. The sooner our investigators begin collecting evidence, the higher the chances of securing the maximum available financial compensation.
In some cases, you may not have realized the seriousness of your injuries for months to years after an oilfield accident, and unfortunately, missing a deadline can completely void your chances of recovery. Contacting an experienced oilfield injury lawyer as soon as possible after an accident is critical to protecting your rights for recovery.
3 Steps to Winning Your North Dakota Oilfield Injury Lawsuit
Injured Bakken workers must protect themselves as soon as possible after an accident in the oil field.
Step 1: Contact an Experienced Bakken Oil Field Injury Attorney Immediately
Any oil and gas employee who is injured on the job or family member of a worker tragically killed on the job should immediately contact an oil and gas litigation attorney who has handled cases involving oilfield accidents.
The advice and support of an oilfield injury lawyer is critical from the moment an accident occurs. Reporting your concerns to company officials or others before consulting with your attorney can jeopardize your right to maximum compensation.
Look for an attorney who has first-hand experience with America’s largest oil and gas companies in energy law-related matters, who understands the nuances of oil and gas litigation, and who won’t settle for less than maximum possible compensation.
Consultations with myself and our North Dakota oilfield injury lawyers at Williams Attorneys are free, with no obligation to pursue a claim.
The following information may be helpful (though not necessary) to have nearby during your initial phone consultation:
- Your personal contact information
- Date, time and location of the accident
- Type of injury involved
- A brief description of the incident
This information will help your oilfield injury attorney guide you in the direction that will be most beneficial to you or your loved one.
Step 2: Gather Evidence for Your Oilfield Injury or Wrongful Death Case
As soon as possible after your accident, you (or a companion if you are unable) should start to gather evidence about the circumstances of the accident and your injury. Document your injuries with pictures or videos as much as possible.
Write or verbally record everything you can recall about the incident, including anything that happened immediately before and immediately after the accident.
List the names (and phone numbers, if possible) of all involved in the accident and any witnesses. Take pictures or video of your injuries. Keep receipts and information on any related medical costs. Likewise, keep copies of your employment hours worked before and after the injury and any changes in pay.
An established oilfield injury lawyer will have access to a skilled investigative team. These professionals will help gather security camera footage, accident site photos, emergency response reports, inspection records, training records, medical records, witness testimony, and other important components for your case.
Step 3: File an Oilfield Injury Lawsuit for Financial Compensation
Our oilfield injury lawyers take cases on contingency. This means we do not ask for payment until you win your case.
Whether you choose to settle with the company responsible for your injuries or proceed through trial, an experienced oilfield injury lawyer will help you navigate every aspect of your claim, making certain you meet deadlines, complete required paperwork, prepare a persuasive legal claim, include all potentially liable parties, and negotiate for the best possible outcome.
Hopefully, you will never need a North Dakota oilfield injury attorney. If you do, we hope the information in this guide has been helpful.
For more information on maximizing compensation for your oilfield injury case, download our free Guide to North Dakota Oilfield Injury Lawsuits. If you have further questions about filing an oilfield injury claim, please call Justin Williams at 701-289-9500.
We represent clients located in Manning, Billings, Mandan, Bismarck, Mandaree, Bozeman, Cheyenne, Fargo, Garrison, Helena, Kenmare, Minot, Kalispell, Moorhead, Hebron, Missoula, Grand Forks, Sheridan, Hazen, New Salem, Glen Ullin, Stanton, Dickinson, Stanley, Crosby, Underwood, Center, Surrey, Butte, Watford City, Casper, Williston, Burlington, Washburn, Beulah, and throughout North Dakota.