After two weeks of trial, Attorneys Caj Boatright and Roland Christensen won a massive, life-changing verdict for the wife and children of a company man in the drilling industry. Our client’s husband and father—Karl Schneider—was working for Terra Energy Partners in Western Colorado when he contracted a deadly and fast-acting virus. He died hundreds of miles away from his home in New Hampshire.
CDC testing and our investigation uncovered gross negligence on Terra Energy’s part. After three years of litigation, our firm finally has the chance to share Karl’s story.
Covering Up the Risk of Disease
Karl and Laura started dating in high school, and they had bright futures ahead of them. Laura studied at Cornell for her undergrad while Karl attended the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. He went into offshore drilling, working for Transocean for nearly 15 years. He was eventually promoted to toolpusher by 35 years old, one of the highest-ranking positions on a drilling rig.
In 2017, Karl was recruited by Terra Energy Partners. The company had bought over $910 million in drilling assets just two years prior, acquiring considerable resources, and hired Karl on as a company man to work in Western Colorado.
As part of the $910 million purchase, the previous owner of the assets gave Terra Energy Partners a detailed safety procedure written to address a rare but fatal hazard in remote areas of Western Colorado: Hantavirus. The virus is carried by mice in their droppings, urine, and saliva with a 35% fatality rate in humans. The Hantavirus safety procedures included information about prevention and mitigation, recognizing the early symptoms of Hantavirus, and other life-saving knowledge.
Terra Energy Partners knowingly withheld this information from their employees and company men, including Karl. Terra knew about the extreme dangers of the mice from the safety procedure, but worse, Terra was repeatedly buying mouse traps and other supplies to catch mice for the workers living in the remote areas and still Terra remained silent about the risk. Even when it was clear that the trailers they’d supplied and the mousetraps they’d furnished weren’t sufficient, Terra stayed silent about Hantavirus. The workers, meanwhile, saw so many mice they competed to see who could catch the most.
In September 2019, Karl left New Hampshire for the Terra Energy site in Western Colorado, where he’d live and work 24/7 until his two-week hitch was over.
After a few days, he contracted what he thought was the flu. He ignored it, figuring it wasn’t anything serious. Safety procedures, meanwhile, identify flu-like symptoms as an early sign of Hantavirus. Karl and his co-workers had no knowledge of this.
So, the virus continued undiscovered. Karl grew sicker, his lungs filling with fluid, which depleted his body of the oxygen he needed to live. He didn’t know any of this was happening; he just knew he needed to see a doctor. After a week, he was admitted to the nearest ER, but the virus was too far gone. He died a few hours later, on September 29, 2019.
He was 38 years old.
Three Years of Litigation
It’s virtually impossible for Karl to have contracted Hantavirus anywhere else. New Hampshire hasn’t had a single Hantavirus case in its history; the CDC confirmed as much when they tested Karl for Hantavirus and found that the strain that killed him was common to Western Colorado.
Terra Energy hired Karl to work and live in facilities they owned and operated while covering up the risk of disease common to the area. Inevitably, Karl contracted the virus without any knowledge or safety procedures in place. As a consequence, Karl didn’t know that he should’ve been taking preventative precautions or that he should have gone to the ER at the first sign of symptoms. He didn’t know there were even symptoms to look for.
When Laura came forward to hold Terra Energy accountable for the death of her husband and the father of her children, they offered her $200,000—an insult to his memory and to his family.
It took three years of litigation to finally get Terra Energy in court, but in the end, the jury saw what we saw: a company that needlessly caused a good man’s death with senseless and reckless behavior. In a unanimous decision, the jury awarded our clients $103.6 million in compensatory damages for loss of companionship, loss of economic support, and mental anguish. The jury awarded our clients an additional $105.6 million in punitive damages to ensure Terra Energy Partners, LLC would never allow this to happen again.
Our firm is proud of this result, and prouder still that we were able to honor Karl’s memory by ensuring his family wants for nothing for the rest of their lives.
- Arnold & Itkin News