RUSSELLVILLE -- Entergy Corp. cannot prove that it was the employer for one worker who was killed and two others who were injured in a 2013 accident at Arkansas Nuclear One, an attorney for the workers said Monday.
A hearing on the case was held Monday at the Pope County Courthouse before Milton Fine, administrative law judge for the Workers' Compensation Commission.
A July 2013 lawsuit sought damages from Entergy, saying Entergy was negligent in moving a 1 million-pound turbine generator stator, leading to the death of Wade W̶a̶l̶k̶e̶r Walters*, 24. Ronnie Francis and Jess Clayton were injured in the accident.
Entergy, which has about $12 billion in annual revenue, claims that it was the special employer for the three men who were therefore covered by Entergy's workers' compensation policy. If Entergy prevails, its liabilities will be significantly lessened in the case.
Steve Quattlebaum of Little Rock, an attorney representing Entergy, argued that Entergy was both a special employer and a statutory employer for Walters, Francis and Clayton. One reason is that the three performed tasks at the plant at the direction of an Entergy supervisor, Quattlebaum said.
Pope County Circuit Judge Dennis Sutterfield ordered a stay in the original lawsuit while the Workers' Compensation Commission determines whether Entergy was an employer of the three men.
The three worked for Precision Surveillance Corp., which was contracted to work at the plant during the moving of the stator.
Quattlebaum declined to answer questions about the case Monday and referred questions to an Entergy spokesman. Two spokesmen for the company did not respond to an email seeking comment, and a third said she would try to get comments from Quattlebaum. None were available Monday evening.
During his one-hour opening statement, Quattlebaum showed a 10-minute video of the accident, taken from a security camera at the plant.
Fine advised anyone who did not want to view the video to leave the courtroom. Bonnie Underhill, Walters' grandmother, left. Other relatives remained.
A temporary girder was installed to move the stator, but no load test was done. A load test would have determined whether the girder could handle the weight.
Most of the video showed workers cutting down a hand rail that was obstructing the stator.
The final few seconds of the video showed the girder and the stator collapsing and falling through the floor to the first level of the nuclear plant.
As a result of the accident, the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission has rated Arkansas Nuclear One the worst-performing nuclear plant of the 100 in operation in the United States.
Sach Oliver of Rogers, lead attorney representing the workers, presented documentation during his 90-minute opening arguments showing an email from Entergy officials to Siemens, a contractor on the job. In the email, Entergy told Siemens it did not want a load test conducted before the stator was moved, Oliver said.
"Entergy's reason, knowing that a load test must occur, on why they don't want to do one was that Entergy wanted to avoid any delays was because 'Time is money,'" Oliver said, reading from the email.
Oliver also showed video from depositions of Troy Hollowoa and Bob Gordon, Entergy executives at the plant, which he said supported the evidence that Entergy was not an employer for the workers.
Another reason Entergy considered itself the employer for the three men was a site access test that is given to everyone who enters the Russellville nuclear plant, Oliver said. But documentation Oliver presented showed that Entergy did not consider itself the employer of workers for other contractors on the 2013 job.
Oliver also presented documentation showing that Precision carried workers' compensation insurance on the three men. Precision's workers' compensation policy paid the expenses for Walters' funeral and also paid medical expenses for the two other men, Oliver said.
Business on 11/17/2015
*CORRECTION: Wade Walters was killed in an accident in 2013 at Arkansas Nuclear One in Russellville. An earlier version of this article about a Workers’ Compensation hearing that appeared in Tuesday’s editions incorrectly identified the victim.
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