IN THE MATTER OF THE WORKER'S COMPENSATION CLAIM OF RICHARD R. WILLIAMS.
RICHARD R. WILLIAMS, Appellee (Petitioner). STATE OF WYOMING, ex rel., DEPARTMENT OF WORKFORCE SERVICES, WORKERS' COMPENSATION DIVISION, Appellant (Respondent),
from the District Court of Campbell County The Honorable
Thomas W. Rumpke, Judge
Representing Appellant Peter K. Michael, Wyoming Attorney
General; Daniel E. White, Deputy Attorney General; J.C.
DeMers, Senior Assistant Attorney General; and Benjamin
Eliazar Fischer, Assistant Attorney General.
Representing Appellee Larry B. Jones of Burg Simpson Eldredge
Hersh & Jardin, P.C., Cody, WY.
BURKE, C.J., and HILL, DAVIS, FOX, and KAUTZ, JJ.
Richard Williams suffered a head injury while working as a
well operator and applied for workers' compensation
benefits. In Mr. Williams' version of events, a flash
fire startled him and caused him to fall backward and strike
his head. Because the building in which Mr. Williams was
working when he suffered his injury showed no signs of a
recent fire, the Wyoming Workers' Compensation Division
(Division) determined that Mr. Williams' injury did not
arise out of and in the course of his employment and denied
The Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) upheld the denial
of benefits based on its finding that Mr. Williams and his
version of events lacked credibility, and Mr. Williams filed
a petition for review in district court. The district court
concluded that the OAH decision was contrary to overwhelming
medical evidence that Mr. Williams injured his head while
engaged in work-related activities and reversed. We affirm.
The Division presents two issues on appeal, which we restate
as a single issue:
I. Is the OAH decision upholding the Division's denial of
benefits contrary to the overwhelming weight of the evidence?
In June 2014, Richard Williams was employed by L&L
Enterprises as a well operator at the North Buck Draw Unit
(NBDU), a field owned and operated by EOG Resources, Inc.
(EOG) in Campbell County, Wyoming. In that position, Mr.
Williams oversaw production of twenty-four oil wells and
maintained the operation's oil separator units. He
generally worked alone, eight days on, six days off.
On June 21, 2014, Mr. Williams followed his normal daily
routine and arrived at the field at about 7:00 a.m. He
checked the better-producing wells for any immediate
attention that might be required and then headed to the
process building. In the process building, he checked the
separators, dump valves, and fluid levels to ensure they were
working properly. He then exited the back of that building
and checked the gas metering station to record gas sales for
the previous day. Mr. Williams then returned to his truck and
drove to the dehydration building.
At approximately 8:30 a.m., as Mr. Williams was driving to
the dehydration building, he received and responded to a text
message from his wife. A short time after that text message,
he arrived at the dehydration building and began his tasks
there. He first checked the three-stage separator and the
reboiler and then went out the building's back door to
the treater, where he checked the oil water, dump valves, and
other parts of the machinery to ensure everything was working
After completing that task, Mr. Williams returned to the
dehydration building to check the condensate collected in the
separators. Under normal conditions, a pump would direct the
condensate fluid through the separators into the treater, but
that pump had broken down about a year earlier. To compensate
for the lack of a pump, Mr. Williams was instructed to
manually empty both separators into a subfloor containment
unit. The larger of the separators had a valve that would
allow its condensate to be emptied into the containment unit,
but for the smaller separator, Mr. Williams was instructed to
use a metal bucket to collect the liquid and then dump the
liquid into the containment unit. Mr. Williams explained:
Q. So you were dumping something in the bucket. What is it
that you were dumping?
A. That's condensate. Because what happens is the
reboiler super-heats the glycol and as a result the
condensate in it and the water in it evaporate into steam and
end up going out the top and into a condenser, where it gets
cooled back off and turned to a liquid and dumped into this
scrubber, I guess you can call it.
And then naturally when that happens you are going to have
gas in with that, so then all of that gas, and whatnot, flows
out the top of that over to the scrubber where it drops out
the rest of any liquids, and whatnot, that it can. And the
gas goes out to a flare stack to get burned off for EPA
And what happens that - like I say, the fluid in there most
typically is condensate because it's the lightest and
it's the thing that carries with the gas the most, so
that's why we have to keep that scrubber empty, because
if it fills up then you start having condensate overflowing,
going out into the gas fumes into the flare stack and the
flare stack gets too hot and bad things happen.
So that's what I was dumping into the bucket was the
condensate from that scrubber and then putting it into this
containment tank until it gets full, and then we'd have
them come haul it off however, you know, you need to when it
Q. So you're working with very flammable substances?
To reach the containment unit's opening, where the bucket
with condensate from the smaller separator would be dumped,
Mr. Williams had to step up onto a platform about six to
twelve inches off the building's concrete floor. Mr.
Williams did this, and according to his version of events,
while he was emptying the contents of the bucket into the
containment unit, he saw a flash of fire come over the top of
the bucket. This startled him and he stumbled backwards, fell
off the platform, hit his head on the building's concrete
floor, and lost consciousness. When he awoke, he saw what
appeared to be the containment unit on fire. He then
retrieved the fire extinguisher mounted outside the
building's door and sprayed the fire extinguisher in a
back and forth sweeping motion until he reached the
containment unit, which he also sprayed with the
At 8:48 a.m., Mr. Williams called 911 from his truck and
reported the fire and his fall. An ambulance and fire unit
responded, and Wyoming Life Flight was also dispatched to the
location. The EMS report noted:
Dispatched 911 to the North Buck Draw Station for a male that
fell backward after a flash-over. Patient hit his head and
complains of head pain. Dispatch advised patient becoming
drowsy and not responding well. Wyoming Life Flight requested
prior to arrival on scene.
Upon arrival patient awake and in the front seat of his
vehicle. Patient states "worst headache ever".
Patient states pain is in the back of his head. Pain is
described as a stabbing pain in the occipital area. No
obvious signs of injury noted, no hematoma, no swelling and
no crepitus. * * * While waiting for life flight to land,
patient describes pain as moving in his head and still sharp
in nature. * * *
The Campbell County Fire Department arrived at the scene at
about 9:15 a.m. It reported its response and findings as
* * * Dispatch advised that the patient indicated that there
had been a flash fire caused by condensate with which he was
working. Additional information indicated that the patient
had experienced loss of consciousness, and he was difficult
to understand. Dispatch advised that they were attempting to
keep the patient awake with phone conversation. Dispatch
relayed that the patient thought the fire was out after he
used a fire extinguisher.
During the initial response, Campbell County Memorial
Hospital (CCMH) Emergency Medical Services (EMS) requested
LifeFlight and requested CHF4 Shank to be the ground contact.
Upon arrival, EMS was on scene attending to the patient, who
was able to direct CHF4 Shank to the processing building as
the area where the incident occurred; there was no fire
showing from the processing building. Upon further
investigation inside the processing building, there was no
fire or smoke visible. There was a distinct odor that was not
recognizable to CHF4 Shank. It appeared that an ABC fire
extinguisher had been discharged inside the structure, as
there was material similar to dry-chemical extinguishing
agent across most of the interior. No evidence of fire, smoke
or spill was evident upon initial investigation. No smoke,
soot or singed materials were present.
CHF4 Shank made the decision to close the building and secure
it for EOG Resources. CHF4 Shank did not immediately return
to investigate because of the unknown nature of the situation
and the volatility of the condensate potentially involved in
the initial incident.
As the property was a gas processing site, CCFD did not have
jurisdictional authority to conduct a fire origin and cause
investigation, and no request was made by the owner for CCFD
to conduct an investigation.
Mr. Williams was placed on the Life Flight helicopter and
transported to the Wyoming Medical Center in Casper, Wyoming.
The Life Flight notes indicate Mr. Williams was unable to
walk without assistance due to severe dizziness, and he was
"found to have a hematoma to the basilar region with no
other external signs of injury."
Upon arrival at the Wyoming Medical Center, Mr. Williams was
treated in the emergency room by Dr. Eugene Duquette. Dr.
Duquette reported that "[i]nitially, it is very
difficult to get a history from this gentleman. He is very
concussive when he first gets here; he actually clears as
time progresses." On physical examination, Dr. Duquette
found "some bruising and an abrasion with some puffiness
on his posterior occiput." Dr. Duquette assessed Mr.
Williams as having a "[c]losed head injury with
postconcussion syndrome and occipital hematoma, " and
discharged him with a pain medication prescription and
"closed head injury precautions."
On June 23, 2014, Mr. Williams completed and signed a report
of injury for submission to the Division. On that same date,
at the request of EOG, Mr. Williams returned to the
dehydrator building to do an accident reconstruction. During
that meeting, Mr. Williams became concerned that EOG did not
intend to address what he felt were dangerous conditions at
the site, and he therefore, on June 24, 2014, submitted a
complaint to OSHA reporting his safety concerns.
On June 25, 2014, Roger Eagleston, a senior OSHA compliance
officer, investigated the site and concluded that each of the
eight hazards Mr. Williams reported had merit. He also
* * * With the evidence obtained during this inspection I
have concluded beyond a reasonable doubt that a flash fire
could not have occurred. Fire Chief, Bill Swank of the
Campbell County Fire department-Wright concurred with my
findings. [EOG] Denver based Safety Manager Mike McDonald
stated there (sic) internal review of the matter and his
prior experience as ...