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Court awards $44.3 million in ExxonMobil worker death case

BEAUMONT — A Jefferson County jury awarded $44.3 million to the family of a man who was killed in an industrial accident in May 2016.

Vuk Vujasinovic and Byron Alfred of VB Attorneys represented Jorge Barron, Hector Barron, Osiel Rocha and the family of Miguel Barron, according to information from VB Attorneys.

Miguel Barron, 37, of Brownsville was working on a heat exchanger on an elevated platform when a pipe fell on him, according to an archived story. Two of his brothers were at the scene when he died.

Attorney Byron Alfred called this a “tough case.”

“We are very happy with the outcome,” Alfred said.

In early 2016, ExxonMobil was preparing for a turnaround job at Crude Unit A at its Beaumont refinery. During a turnaround job, ExxonMobil shuts down part of the refinery so maintenance work can be done.

Various contractors are hired during the turnaround and work is scheduled around the clock.

ExxonMobil hired B&G Crane Services Inc. to perform crane work and AltairStrickland Inc. to perform rigging work, according to VB Attorneys.

At midnight on May 10, 2016, B&G Crane started the job of lifting a 12-ton heat exchanger from an area of the refinery five floors above ground level. Attorneys contended the crane company did not do any of the safety planning it promised to do or train the crane operator. The heat exchanger made contact with a 1,000-plus pound water pipe during the lift, causing it to fall on one of the riggers, crushing him.

During arguments in court, B&G Crane denied any responsibility for the fatality and argued the fatality was 50 percent ExxonMobil’s responsibility and 50 percent AltairStrickland’s.

B&G Crane argued that ExxonMobil had previously planned to remove the pipe that fell, but directed the lift job to continue without doing so.  B&G Crane further argued that ExxonMobil knew its pipe that fell was “super brittle,” “out-of-spec,” and “over 60 years old,” but failed to warn anyone, according to an issued statement by VB Attorneys.

In addition, B&G Crane argued ExxonMobil failed to enforce ExxonMobil’s crane procedures, which applied to the lift in question. None of these points were disputed, the statement said.

As to AltairStrickland, B&G Crane argued the riggers were negligent in many ways in handling the load and in allowing it to make contact with obstacles, and in failing to inform the B&G crane operator that this was occurring, VB Attorneys said. In addition, B&G Crane argued that AltairStrickland provided a rigging crew that did not have the National Center for Construction Education and Research certifications required by ExxonMobil. These points were not disputed.

The case was tried over two weeks. The jury deliberated three days.

The jury concluded B&G Crane was 45 percent negligent in causing the rigger’s death, ExxonMobil was 45 percent negligent, and AltairStrickland was 10 percent negligent.

The rigger who died was not married, but left behind three daughters and his parents. The rigger’s two brothers who witnessed his death each brought a bystander claim, and one other rigger brought an injury claim.