(Houston, TX) Houston attorneys Benny Agosto, Jr. and Ben Agosto III of Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Agosto, Aziz & Stogner have filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Harris County, Texas against Gaither Petroleum Company and Innovative Energy Services, Inc. on behalf of the surviving family of Ernesto Nuñez, who was killed while working at a decommissioned oil derrick in Baytown, Texas. Mr. Nuñez was a longtime, trusted employee of Innovative Energy Services, who was put to work hired by Gaither Petroleum, the operator, to “cap” the well. However, because of unsafe practices and lack of adequate safety procedures, Mr. Nuñez was given the task of cutting the wellhead casing while completely alone. Mr. Nuñez did not have a spotter and was not given any assistance to make sure the wellhead was secured while he was cutting.
For Mr. Nuñez to access the portion of the casing he needed to cut, a large hole needed to be dug next to the derrick, and around the casing. The hole, which measured approximately five feet in depth and seven to eight feet in width, was dug by an Innovative Energy Services, Inc. employee with the use of a backhoe tractor. After the hole was dug, Mr. Nuñez began his work on the outer casing. Mr. Nuñez performed three vertical cuts and two horizontal cuts with a torch, separated the fragments from the rest of the outer casing, and set the pieces outside of the hole.
Mr. Nuñez continued his work on the intermediate and inner casings. However, as he was in the process of making his cuts into the intermediate and inner casings, the well experienced a sudden fluctuation of increased pressure. This “burp” caused the piping to suddenly shift up—but by then, approximately two-thirds of the casings’ diameter had been cut. This led to a tragic chain of events: the sheer weight of the portion Mr. Nuñez was tasked with removing could no longer be supported by the thread of intact casing. This caused the top half of the casing Mr. Nuñez was working on to violently sheer from the remaining portion of pipe; consequently, the freed portion of the wellhead rapidly timbered toward Mr. Nuñez.
Mr. Nuñez attempted to evade the incoming mass. Horribly, he could not—the pipe fell directly on his upper back, which pinned Mr. Nuñez face down in the hole. The immense weight of the pipe forced his head and face into the soil. There can be little doubt that as Mr. Nuñez laid there, crushed by the massive pipe, he suffered excruciating last moments before he succumbed to the crushing blow and suffocation. Though emergency services were called once Mr. Nuñez was discovered, he was pronounced dead at the scene.
Mr. Nuñez’s death is a frightening reminder of the very real consequences that face Texan workers face when workplace safety is taken for granted. Mr. Nuñez was set into a deadly situation alone; without a spotter, without assistance to ensure the wellhead was properly secured. When tragedy struck, Mr. Nuñez was left alone in a hole to slowly suffocate and suffer until his death. Mr. Nuñez deserved so much better.
On Friday, March 26, 2021 a Petition was filed on behalf of Mr. Nuñez’s wife, his three minor children and his parents, against Gaither Petroleum Company and Innovative Energy Services, Inc. for negligence and gross negligence, seeking damages for Mr. Nuñez’s death in excess of $1,000,000.