After an excavator operated by Frontier Services, Inc. (Frontier) collided with an underground high-pressure natural gas line, an explosion, fire and significant property damage resulted. Ebeltoft . Sickler . Lawyers represented Frontier, an underground pipeline installation company active in the North Dakota Bakken oil play. Williston Basin Interstate Pipeline Company (WBI), the owner-operator of the line that exploded, sued Frontier for recovery of property damage and lost saleable gas. Paul Ebeltoft and Courtney Olson of Ebeltoft . Sickler . Lawyers convinced a jury to allocate the largest portion of fault for the event to Plaintiff WBI, enabling Frontier’s insurers to obtain judgment to recover a the majority of their payments for Frontier’s excavation equipment lost in the blaze.
Ebeltoft and Olson successfully attacked the credibility of the WBI line locator who claimed that, though he was unable to locate Frontier’s path of excavation, he none-the-less was able to plant flags warning of WBI’s intersecting underground facilities. The flags, together with Frontier’s admitted knowledge of buried facilities in the general area, were sufficient to alert Frontier to danger, WBI claimed. Frontier established that its installation practices assured that Frontier’s employees would not have missed WBI’s flags, had WBI placed them as claimed. A challenge that Frontier needed to overcome was the impact of statements made by its distraught company president on the day of the explosion when, to help the WBI line locator keep his job, he shouldered part of the blame, even though he didn’t feel Frontier actually had been at fault. The jury returned its favorable verdict after one and one-half hours of deliberation.