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Fingertip Amputation Hangs Over Gas Company

(CN) - Chesapeake Energy may be liable to a drill-rig worker who had a fingertip amputated after a metal catwalk collapsed underneath him, a federal judge ruled.

The catwalk gave way beneath Todd Shamblin's feet while he was moving a sheave block pulley from a Pennsylvania drill rig on Dec. 15, 2009, according to the undisputed facts.

Shamblin claims his right hand was severely injured and permanently disabled as a result of the accident, with such injuries as broken finger bones and other wounds.

The rig worker ultimately had to have a fingertip amputated.

Shamblin and his wife later sued his alleged employers - Chesapeake Energy Corp., Chesapeake Appalachia LLC, Nomac Drilling LLC, and others - in 2011 for negligence.

It is unclear, however, who exactly employed Shamblin at the time of the accident.

Shamblin claims that after the accident, a "drilling safety investigation report" was prepared on a Chesapeake Energy form, and that a worker's compensation judge found that Shamblin sustained his injuries "during the course of his employment with Chesapeake Energy Corp."

On the other hand, Chesapeake Appalachia leased the drilling site and operated the natural-gas well where the accident occurred, according to a statement of facts from the defendants.

The record also shows, however, that prior to the accident, Shamblin received paychecks and W-2s from Nomac, while a "drilling bid proposal and daywork drilling contract" identifies Chesapeake Appalachia as "operator" and Nomac as "contractor."

Chesapeake Energy, Chesapeake Appalachia and Nomac moved for summary judgment, but U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo denied the motion Feb. 26.

"Although moving defendants argue that Chesapeake Energy was designated as Shamblin's employer in the workers' compensation proceeding only because its insurer, Liberty Mutual, set up the claim in such a manner, moving defendants fail to substantiate this statement with a citation to any evidence in the record," Caputo wrote.

While evidence suggests that Appalachia retained Nomac as an independent contractor, "the circumstances of the Chesapeake Appalachia-Nomac relationship are not clear on the present record," the Scranton-based judge found, tossing aside Appalachia's statutory employer defense.

Chesapeake Appalachia had a duty to ensure safety at the drill site, the ruling states.

The company's contract with Nomac "requires Chesapeake Appalachia and its representatives and subcontractors to support Nomac Drilling's safety policies and procedures," Caputo wrote. "Moreover, there is evidence in the record that Chesapeake Appalachia employed full-time, on-site employees where the accident occurred. One Chesapeake Appalachia employee was responsible for drilling site safety oversight and ensuring that all work was performed in compliance with Chesapeake Energy's 'Environmental, Health & Safety (EH&S) Manual,' while another employee was to monitor drilling operations to include safety activities on a given site. ... In view of this evidence, Chesapeake Appalachia had a duty to ensure the drilling site was safe for workers."

Based in Oklahoma City, Chesapeake Energy reported more than $12.3 billion in revenue in 2012.

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