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Family of Montana man who died in oil fields sues oil company

The family of a 39-year-old Montana man who died in the Bakken oil fields has brought a federal lawsuit against the Texas oil company that owned and operated the well where the man died. The victim was discovered dead on a catwalk at the drilling site in July of 2013. He had been inspecting oil levels in an oil collection tank.

The man's death certificate states he died of natural causes due to obesity and heart problems. The family alleges, however, that the man was killed by toxic gases released from the tank. His body was discovered next to a tank hatch with its cover removed. The lawsuit alleges that the Texas company had a duty to maintain its equipment and facilities in a safe condition.

An investigator who has looked into several oil field deaths that occurred under similar circumstances says that medical examiners often mistakenly list natural causes as the cause of death. The investigator says the toxic gases typically dissipate by the time medical examiners arrive at the scene. The lawsuit alleges that nine other deaths have occurred under similar circumstances in the Bakken fields.

When an oil field worker is killed on the job the person's family members have the right to collect workers' compensation death benefits from the employer or its insurance company. In the oil fields there are often multiple contractors and companies working at a particular site. When the negligence of a non-employer third party contributed to the death, the worker's family has the right to bring a civil lawsuit against that third party and seek additional damages.

Source: Billings Gazette, "Sidney family sues Texas company over son's 2013 Bakken death," Tom Lutey, Oct. 23, 2015

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