Proven Results

Workplace Safety at Exxon

Rodolfo Arevalo was working as a technician at the Exxon fuel-loading facility in Everett, Massachusetts, when a bubble of compressed air exploded from the nozzle of a truck’s loading arm, causing him to sustain fatal injuries.

Settlement Amount: $7,000,000

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In December 1993, Rodolfo Arevalo, a 36-year-old immigrant from El Salvador, was working as a technician at the Exxon fuel-loading facility in Everett, Massachusetts. As Arevalo stood on top of one of the tankers loading it with heating oil, a bubble of compressed air exploded from the nozzle of the truck’s loading arm, causing it to fly up into his chest. The force knocked Arevalo off of the tanker onto the concrete floor twelve feet below. As a result of the fall, Arevalo fractured his skull and died a few days later.

We brought a third party claim against Fraser Engineering, the firm that had made repairs to the fuel-loading system earlier that day, but had failed to close a key valve in the system, allowing air to get inside.

Through an investigation, our team also learned that similar accidents had happened elsewhere and that safety equipment was available to avoid serious injury.

The third party case against the engineering company would not have been discovered if we hadn’t been able to get to the scene of the accident early and preserve the physical evidence. Fortunately, the plaintiffs were referred to us by Arevalo’s union shortly after the accident occurred. We were then able to hire an expert in fluid dynamics to examine the fuel-loading system and speak to witnesses before their memories began to fade.

Credit is also due to the focus groups we employed to help put the final pieces of this case together. They were especially important in this case where the plaintiff’s personal responsibility for the accident was in question. There were strong allegations of comparative negligence here, but the focus group led us to believe that a jury would discount that.

The case settled on the eve of trial after several days of mediation. The defendant chose this route after seeing how thoroughly we had prepared our case, which included an animation of the evidence.

The size of the settlement can be attributed to the inaccurate statements we elicited from Fraser executives concerning their knowledge of prior accidents. These were essentially smoking guns determined during the investigation and discovery. Because of the extensive investigation and early work on the case with experts, we were able to put together an extensive discovery plan with a lot of traps in it and the executives stepped right into them.

As a result of this case, Exxon was forced to make significant changes to their tanker truck vehicles to prevent future injury to workers engaged in filling the tankers.

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