The Ferguson Law Firm’s civil cases sometimes become criminal cases. Attorney Jane Leger explains what that means.

Sometimes when we’re investigating an injury case, we find out that a company has engaged in not just negligence that resulted in our client’s injuries, but that the company is engaged in criminal wrongdoing.

We have a case right now that we’ve been working on in New Mexico, where some welders went out to a tank battery site. The tank battery side is just a collection of tanks where oil and gas is stored after it’s produced. And the product is held there until it can be loaded into trucks and moved to a different location. Our crew had gone out to fix what was a bad weld on one of those tanks.

And from what we were being told in the beginning and what the family was told, it was a tank battery that was under construction and had never been used. In other words, it was a site where there should not be any oil and gas in the tanks. So it was very confusing to OSHA and to our family members as to why the explosion had happened because the site was not producing oil and gas yet.

What we uncovered during our investigation is that the company that owned that site had had a spill at another site where they had spilled nearly 300 barrels of oil. And when you have a spill of that size, the law requires that you report that to the state because you’ve contaminated the environment.

What this company did in an effort to hide its oil spill from the state and avoid a costly cleanup, was secretly truck product to a tank battery – where there should not have been any product stored – and they put the product in the tank and then didn’t tell anybody about it. So when our clients, well they’re really all dead now, so – but we represent the families – so when these men went to the work site they were under the impression that it was a safe work site and that there was no oil and gas.

So what started out as an investigation into how three men burned to death on a work site, we uncovered that this company is systematically hiding oil spills. And so that they don’t have to report it to the state and do an expensive, proper clean up, they’re just shuttling it to a different site and hoping nobody ever finds out about it. And these guys went out there thinking it was a clean or a safe site, and literally blew themselves up.

In the Georgia case, when we discovered that the inspection and insurance company had been filing false reports with the state, we amended the lawsuit and turned it into not just a personal injury case, but into a racketeering case.

And so the oil and gas company that we just discovered was hiding oil spills from the state of New Mexico. We just amended that wrongful death case and added racketeering charges.

Because we have worked on a lot of explosion cases, we have experts that we know have the knowledge. They’re industry experts. They’ve worked with the chemical safety board. They’ve worked with OSHA. They have the skill and expertise to go into a situation and find out what went wrong. When sometimes it’s not apparent or it’s difficult to tell initially what went wrong.

The New Mexico case was a mystery to everyone in the beginning because we were told that the tank battery was still under construction. But we knew there had been an enormous amount of oil and gas in at least one of the storage tanks because the fire had burned for a long time. And so the oil and gas company and their lawyers and representatives kept telling us that the battery was not in operation. Well, our experts were able to tell us very quickly that that was an absolute misrepresentation, that there had to be oil and gas on the site, it had to come from somewhere.

The company was, you know, pretending to be ignorant about what had happened. “Well, you know, we don’t know why this happened. We haven’t even started production yet.” And so once we started taking depositions, it became clear very quickly that there was only oil and gas in that site for one reason. And it was because the oil and gas company was trying to hide an oil spill at a different location.