A judge with the Arkansas Workers Compensation Commission has ruled that three contract workers tending to a job at Entergy’s Arkansas Nuclear One facility on March 31, 2013 — Easter Sunday — were not employees of Entergy at the time. The ruling clears the way for a civil lawsuit against Entergy and other companies associated with the incident to continue.
Contrary to Entergy’s claim, Judge Milton Fine ruled Wednesday that Wade Walters, Jess Clayton and Ronnie Francis were employees of Precision Surveillance Company (PSC), which acted as a subcontractor. Walters, 24, was killed. Clayton and Francis were seriously injured.
The ruling confirms a 2013 ruling by Pope County Circuit Judge Dennis Sutterfield.
“We are obviously pleased with Judge Fine’s ruling,” said lead attorney Sach Oliver of Bailey and Oliver Law Firm in Rogers, the firm representing the Walters family along with Clayton and Francis. “Entergy wanted our clients to be viewed as Entergy employees to shirk their responsibility for negligence in this case, and force the workers comp insurance to pay the claim. We are happy that Judge Fine recognize the misrepresentation in that argument.”
The work involved in 2013 at Arkansas Nuclear One included the removal of a 500-ton main turbine generator stator during a planned controlled outage by Entergy.
The plan was to have the stator moved to the turbine deck of the building, turned, and lowered onto a train rail leading outside. From there, it would be transported to a building to be refurbished and sold. Entergy and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved the process and outage schedule.
As stated in the lawsuit filed by Walters’ family, a small window of the outage schedule was reserved for moving the stator and Entergy is alleged to have pushed contractors and subcontractors to complete the work within the timeframe.
The lawsuit also maintains that while other crane companies refused to accept the job based on Entergy’s strict parameters, Bigge Crain and Rigging Co. agreed to do the work.
Work began at 7:40 that morning with the stator being lifted for relocation to the turbine deck. The defendants did not account for the removal of a railing that guarded the opening of the turbine deck.
As the stator neared the railing, suspended in the air, workers realized the stator couldn’t fit through the opening to the turbine deck. Ironworkers and carpenters were called in to remove the railing while the move was still in motion. Those workers included Walters, Clayton and Francis.
Once the railing was removed, the crane buckled under the weight of the 500-ton stator and came crashing down. The stator slammed into the train bay, knocking off large chunks of concrete, pipe and other pieces of construction. Several beams of the crane also collapsed.
In the end, Walters was killed and Clayton and Francis were among the eight people injured.
Walters’ mother, Susan Allen of Russellville, said the family is thrilled that Judge Fine has removed legal hurdle to allowing her family’s lawsuit to continue.
“We have lived with this nightmare for three long years,” said Allen. “We will never achieve closure. It is important for people to know that God did not take our son; he received our son. A piece of equipment took our son. We want to make sure other families don’t have to go through this nightmare.”