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Appeals court: Judge was right to nix oilfield death suit

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — An appeals court has upheld a judge’s decision to throw out a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of a South Dakota man who was killed in an accident in the North Dakota oil patch five years ago.

Fifty-two-year-old Joseph Kronberg, of Bison, South Dakota, was electrocuted in May 2011 when he stepped onto a metal grate that had come in contact with a punctured electrical cord and puddle of water. The accident happened outside a “change shack” for the Nabors Drilling oil rig.

The complaint by Kronberg’s survivors accused Oasis Petroleum, RPM Consulting and others of negligence. Oasis Petroleum obtained property rights for the well and RPM Consulting provided Oasis with engineering support and subcontractors to oversee drilling.

U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland of North Dakota ruled in Feburary 2015 that Oasis Petroleum and RPM Consulting were not liable under North Dakota law, after which the family dropped claims against others involved with the rig. The family filed their appeal in March 2015, asserting that the companies owed Kronberg “a duty of care.”

A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in a ruling released Friday that there’s no evidence the companies had control over the property.

The panel said the metal grate and generator that powered the cord was owned by Nabors Drilling, not Oasis Petroleum. Nabors Drilling was fined for violating Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations in connection with Kronberg’s death.

The circuit judges also noted that neither Oasis Petroleum nor RPM Consulting issued day-to-day instructions regarding the operation of the well, and the companies could not be held liable for the alleged negligence other subcontractors.


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