For his lost wages and lingering vision problems, a young oil field worker injured in a deadly 1994 gas leak was awarded $1.1 million on Tuesday.
Judge Barbara A. Lane ordered Oklahoma-based Vintage Petroleum to pay the amount to Derek W. Abbott, now 22, who suffered brain damage in the accident, causing blurred vision and limiting his ability to work with heavy machinery.
"I'm glad it's over," Abbott said late Tuesday from his home near Sacramento. "It's been a long time and I'm glad I can move on with the next part of my life. . . . I don't have a job now. I haven't been able to keep a job and go back and forth for all the court stuff."
The award was the fifth levied against Vintage Petroleum, which in August was found liable in the Rincon oil field accident that killed three and injured Abbott and two colleagues. With the most recent judgment, penalties against the oil company reached $6.7 million. A sixth award is not expected until later this year.
Abbott's lawyer, C. Duffy Buchanan of Thousand Oaks, had sought $4.2 million in damages. But Lane said Buchanan had not proved that the young man suffered from headaches, dizziness, memory loss and post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the accident. She did determine that Abbott had suffered considerable harm.
"The court . . . concludes, based on the evidence of this young man's favorite activities before the accident--soccer, off-road motorcycle riding, motorboating and basketball--that the vision impairment has caused him significant damage in terms of his loss of enjoyment of his life," Lane wrote in her decision.
Ventura lawyer Bruce Fincke, who represents Vintage, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. However, he has previously indicated that his client is likely to appeal the decisions.
Abbott's lawyer said he hopes the company pays the award, rather than prolonging the case.
"At some point, Vintage has to accept some sort of civic and moral responsibility and move on," Buchanan said. "I know they have a legal right to appeal, but it may not be in their best interests."
The lethal gas leak occurred Aug. 10, 1994, at Vintage's oil production field in the foothills of Rincon Mountain in Seacliff. The workers were part of a crew hired by a subcontractor to convert the 70-year-old well into a solid waste disposal site.
As the men drilled, a burst of gas caused water to spew up the pipe, carrying with it noxious fumes.
Overcome by the gas, workers Jason Hoskins, Ronald Johnson and Sean Harris died almost immediately. The men who rushed to help them--Abbott, Toby Thrower and Jerry Walker--were seriously injured.
Lane awarded just over $3 million to Hoskins' family, $1.3 million to Thrower, $1 million to Harris' parents and $267,055 to Johnson's son. The damages phase of Walker's case ended in a mistrial and is scheduled to begin anew in May.