Colorado Oilfield Worker Awarded $30 Million After Fracking Tank Explosion, But State Law Limits Payout

GREELEY, Colorado — A Colorado jury has awarded $30 million to an oilfield worker who suffered severe injuries in a fracking tank explosion in Weld County four years ago. However, due to state law limitations on damage payouts, the worker will not be able to collect the full amount. This verdict comes as a group called Coloradans for Accountability, supported by the Colorado Trial Lawyers Association, is pushing for a ballot initiative to eliminate the cap on non-economic damages in personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits.

The injured worker, Steven Straughen, who is a married father of two and a U.S. Air Force veteran, was working as a well tester when the explosion occurred in December 2019. Straughen and a colleague heard a pop and noticed smoke, leading Straughen to ask his co-worker to shut the vent valves of the tanks. However, the tank Straughen was standing on exploded, launching him 27 feet through the air. The explosion resulted in a fractured pelvis, spine, ankle, and hip, as well as a mild traumatic brain injury. Straughen underwent months of hospitalization and rehabilitation, and eventually had his right foot amputated.

The injuries sustained have caused permanent mobility issues, preventing Straughen from participating in activities he once enjoyed, such as hiking, snowboarding, and sailing competitively. Straughen expressed his frustration with the current state law, stating that it benefits insurance companies and defendants while offering no benefit to those who have been harmed.

After investigations, it was determined that the company responsible for delivering the faulty fracking tanks, BHS Inc., had placed damaged equipment on the Weld County site. Straughen filed a federal personal injury lawsuit against BHS Inc., leading to a nine-day trial where a jury awarded him and his wife Ashley a $30 million verdict. However, state law caps the damages for pain and suffering at $600,000, meaning Straughen will not be able to receive the full amount.

Supporters of the ballot initiative argue that it is time for change to reflect the higher costs of living and different political sensibilities in Colorado. The proposed language for the ballot question has already been submitted to the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office and is awaiting a hearing. If passed, it would empower current residents to determine the fate of damage payout limitations.

Despite the limitations imposed by the law, Straughen remains hopeful and determined, stating that he will keep trying and refuses to quit. The jury’s award will provide him with valuable time to spend with his children before his predicted future dependency on a wheelchair. Straughen, who now works in IT, is grateful for the opportunity to create meaningful memories with his family while he still can.

Throughout Colorado, this case has raised awareness about the limitations on damages in personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits, and the need for potential reforms to ensure fairer compensation for victims.