Two men burned on job sue Pioneer, contractors

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

Feb. 19, 2014 at 5:05 p.m.
Updated Feb. 19, 2014 at 8:20 p.m.

Two men who were burned after an explosion in Victoria are suing companies they say are responsible for their hospital stays.

Charles Windham, a Pioneer Natural Resources employee, was observing contractors - Pinnacle Petroleum and Davis Contractors - put the finishing touches on his office at 15555 U.S. Highway 77 North on Sept. 30.

That's when a worker lit the hot water heater, Windham's attorney, Jim Cole, said.

Cole maintains Davis Contractors, a plumbing company based in Cuero, was negligent if it ventilated pipes indoors.

The propane filled the room and did not have an odor additive to alert the men inside of the danger, he said.

"Most natural gases are colorless and odorless, but at some point in time, prior to it being sold to a customer, an odorant, which is called 'mercaptan,' is added," Cole said.

Cole added a third defendant to the lawsuit last month - DCP Midstream, a natural gas refinery.

It is unclear now whether Midstream or its retailer, Pinnacle Petroleum, was supposed to add the odorant to the propane, Cole said, adding that his client hopes the lawsuit will result in more safety measures for the industry.

"Maybe Pioneer was the only one that received a delivery of propane without odorant in it, but you have to wonder if that's not the case," Cole said. "It might be happening to other people who live in rural residences where they rely on propane. It's a little frightening."

Windham's case will likely be combined with one brought forth by Patrick and Cindy Lange. Patrick Lange was also injured on the job that day.

Then an employee of Davis Contractors in September, he names Pinnacle Petroleum and Pioneer Natural Resources as defendants in his suit. He wrote in the lawsuit that both were negligent.

Unlike Windham, the Langes are not suing Davis Contractors. The Langes' case was recently transferred from DeWitt to Victoria County.

"Pioneer is very sorry that anyone has been injured," its attorney Matt Sjoberg said, "but Pioneer feels very strongly that it is not responsible."

"Both of these cases are in their infancy," Sjoberg said.

John M. Curnery Jr., who represents Pinnacle Petroleum in both cases; R. Clay Hoblit, who represents DCP Midstream; and Paul Grinke, who represents the Langes, did not respond to requests for comment.

In court documents, Pinnacle Petroleum and DCP Midstream deny any wrongdoing.

Robbe Davis, owner of Davis Contractors, declined to comment.

Windham is seeking between $200,000 and $1 million in relief, according to court documents.



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