LINCOLNTON, N.C. -- A Lincoln County jury took only 50 minutes Wednesday to issue a $1.5 million judgment against a Denver company that supplied a fuel nozzle that caused an explosion at Westport Marina in 2008, killing a 19-year marina worker.
Juror Jessica Henderson told the Observer that the jury was unanimous in agreeing that Petroleum Equipment and Service had knowingly put people in danger by installing a piece of equipment that the state said was illegal to use at marinas.
Nate Coppick was killed June 10, 2008, while refueling an 80-foot charter boat at Westport Marina in Denver. During the trial, an attorney for Coppick’s estate said the fuel nozzle hold-open latch that Coppick was using didn’t function properly and that at least 30 gallons of gas overflowed before the fatal explosion.
As jurors announced Wednesday that Coppick wasn’t negligent in the explosion, his father, Richard Coppick, gasped and slumped his head down.
Later, outside the Lincoln County Courthouse, Coppick said the victim’s family had accomplished “what we set out to do – to find out the truth.”
“It’s a relief,” Coppick told the Observer. “But the pain is always going to be there.”
Lawsuits against the marina owner and boat owner were previously settled out of court.
During closing arguments Wednesday, Jason White, an attorney for Coppick’s estate, told jurors that state law had banned fuel nozzles with hold-open latches at marinas in 2002.
Still, White said, Petroleum Equipment and Service provided Westport Marina with nozzles with hold-open latches
“It was illegal, and they did it over and over and over again,” White said. “They’re negligent, no question about it.”
John Holden, the attorney for Petroleum Equipment and Service, told jurors that the company replaced pressure-activated nozzles at Westport in 2006, but that the marina appeared to have kept the nozzle involved in Coppick’s death around as a spare.
“This nozzle was not only worn out, but it wasn’t put in properly” by someone at the marina, Holden said during closing arguments.
“The shut-off didn’t work,” Holden said, “Within two months (of someone at the marina reinstalling the nozzle), there’s a massive overflow and explosion. Why would the marina have done that? Save money? Don’t have to wait for Petroleum Equipment and Service to get them another one?”
Holden said the company would never have allowed the worn-out nozzle to be used again, and it would have tested a new one to make sure it worked properly.
Holden and company vice president Chris Wilson declined comment as they exited the courthouse Wednesday. Holden later issued a statement to the Observer saying, “Petroleum Equipment and Service has always been committed to safety,” and that the company’s principals “wish to extend their condolences to the Coppick family.”
Juror Henderson said the panel of four women and eight men took little time reaching their verdict because the evidence overwhelmingly showed Petroleum Equipment and Service was negligent.
“They knowingly put in an illegal product,” she said, “and put people in harm’s way.”