UHLC alum Tony Buzbee wins $29 million verdict in battery explosion death case

Tony Buzbee

Tony Buzbee ‘97

Feb. 12, 2015 -- UH Law Center alumnus Tony Buzbee ‘97 won a $29 million jury award this month for the family of an oilfield service worker killed on the job by the explosion of an industrial battery.

Garland "Rickie" Kelley, 38, died after a lithium thionyl chloride battery exploded at a Professional Directional Enterprises, Inc., facility in Conroe in January 2011. His family alleged that the battery was improperly heated to extend its life for use in an oilfield downhole-drilling tool and was known to be defective.

The lawsuit claims included gross negligence and allegations of missing evidence from the explosion. A separate federal investigation led to multiple "serious" and other citations against Kelley's employer for violating federal safety regulations.

After a day of deliberations, a Harris County jury on Feb. 3 awarded $4 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages.

Professional Directional Enterprises, Inc., with offices in Wyoming, Virginia, Louisiana, and Texas, was found 80 percent liable and another defendant that settled before closing arguments in the trial was found 20 percent liable.

The family was co-represented by Buzbee, of The Buzbee Law Firm in Houston, and Matthew J. Mussalli of The Law Office of Matthew J. Mussalli PC of The Woodlands, Texas.

"This verdict should send a message to smaller oil and gas operators that the practice of reheating oilfield tool batteries must stop,” Buzbee said. “The death of Rickie Kelley was absolutely preventable.”

Buzbee also represents former Gov. Rick Perry in Travis County on charges of abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant.

Back to the News Homepage