What Causes Explosions? Who Is At Fault For An Explosion?

Explosions in the oil & gas industry can be caused by many things. Some examples are when equipment is malfunctioning, when the wrong equipment is used for a job, when company policy prohibits using certain types of equipment, when employees work around dangerous chemicals without proper training or protective gear, and when the danger warning devices are installed on pieces of equipment fail to function or are not properly maintained.

In the industry, every accident is investigated to determine what exactly happened and who is to blame. In cases where an explosion occurs at a plant or offshore oil rig, there are very complex rules governing what equipment should be used, how it must be maintained, and what types of precautions must be taken when employees work with dangerous chemicals or other hazardous materials. When these rules are not followed, tragedies happen.

The explosion injury lawyers at Morrow & Sheppard LLP have handled numerous industrial plant and offshore explosion cases. In the cases we have handled, dangerous choices by oil and gas companies have caused serious injuries and horrific burns requiring surgeries, and even death. While the kinds and causes of fires and explosions vary, every single incident our experienced attorneys have encountered has the same overriding similarity: the fire or explosion could have been prevented if safety rules were followed.

Common Types of Explosions

Before discussing what causes fires and explosions, it is helpful to discuss the contexts in which they occur. Here are some examples.

Oilfield Explosions

Every year, there are several explosions in oilfields around the country.  These include explosions in the Texas Eagle Ford Shale, the Haynesville Shale in Louisiana, the STACK play and SCOOP Play (Woodford Shale) in Oklahoma, and the Permian Basin in Texas and New Mexico.

As OSHA has recognized, “[w]orkers in the oil and gas industries face the risk of fire and explosion due to ignition of flammable vapors or gases.”  Flammable gases, such as well gases, vapors, and hydrogen sulfide, can be released from wells, trucks, production equipment, or surface equipment such as tanks and shale shakers. Ignition sources can include static, electrical energy sources, open flames, lightning, cutting and welding tools, hot surfaces, and frictional heat.”

To learn more about the common causes of oilfield accidents, please review our article.

Industrial Explosions

Our industrial accident lawyers have handled plant, refinery, and industrial fires and explosions in a variety of contexts.   For example, we have handled cases in which a refinery operator failed to ensure lines were cleared during a welding operation, resulting in a flash fire that caused injuries.

Offshore And Maritime Explosions

Some of our offshore injury lawyers at Morrow & Sheppard LLP performed work in connection with the Deepwater Horizon explosion, which is perhaps the most well-known offshore explosion in recent history.  For reference, you can review our four-part series of articles about that explosion here:  Part IPart IIPart III, and Part IV.

What were the causes of the largest offshore explosions?  The common causes of offshore explosions include:

Vacuum Truck & Saltwater Disposal Explosions

Numerous work injury explosions have occurred involving oilfield vacuum trucks and saltwater disposal facilities.  For example:

In many cases, vacuum truck explosions and saltwater disposal explosions occur due to violations of explosion safety rules set out in API 2219, Safe Operation of Vacuum Trucks Handling Flammable and Combustible Liquids in Petroleum Service.  The above list contains numerous incidents specifically discussed in API 2219.

Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor (“BLEVE”) Explosions

Tanks and vessels around the world have exploded in boiling liquid expanding vapor (“BLEVE”) explosions.  BLEVE explosions occur when pressurized liquid in a tank or other vessel reaches a temperature above its boiling point.  The boiling point of liquids typically increases under pressure, which means the material in the tank may not boil as long as the vessel is intact.  When something causes the tank to rupture, however, the above-boiling liquid rapidly converts to gas and expands, which can cause a fire or explosion.

BLEVE examples include:

Home Explosions

Unfortunately, there have been a number of preventable home explosions and apartment complex explosions resulting in severe personal injury burns, death, and other injuries.

For example, our firm handled and tried a $7 million home explosion lawsuit in Webb County, Texas (near the Rio Grande Valley) arising from a utility room lean from a gas valve.  Our expert fire and explosion investigators, and the jury, found the plumber, home builder, and CenterPoint Energy neglected to plug and seal the valve, in violation of various building codes and municipal ordinances.

Our firm also recently handled another Colorado home explosion case which arose from leaking pipes underground.

Tank Battery Explosions

Numerous fires and explosions have occurred at tank battery facilities.  For example, on January 24, 2022, there was an explosion and fire at a central Oklahoma oil tank battery operated by Devon Energy near Okarche, Oklahoma.  Tank battery explosions have caused Louisiana to implement new safety rules.

No Fee Unless We Win

At Morrow & Sheppard LLP, we understand the hardships of trying to heal and make sense of an accident. That is why we work on a contingency fee basis, which means no fee unless we win the case. Our fee is a percentage of the verdict or settlement we obtain for you.

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The Fire Triangle

the fire triangle

For most explosions to occur, the three elements of the “fire triangle” must come together in one place.  The three elements of the fire triangle are (1) a fuel source; (2) oxygen; and (3) an ignition source.

Many times, investigations and news articles will focus on the ignition source of a fire or explosion.  However, our fire and explosion lawyers have learned that sometimes this emphasis is misplaced.  This is because, critically, if any one of the three legs of the fire triangle is eliminated, there will be no fire.  There will be no explosion.

Frequently, companies are negligent (or even grossly negligent) in failing to recognize that, as opposed to attempting to eliminate all ignition sources, safe work practice and a safe work environment can be more reasonably achieved by eliminating oxygen or a fuel source from the work scenario.  In the oilfield, there is a saying about this, which goes “if you have oxygen and you have a fuel source, the ignition source will find you.”

What’s The Difference Between A Fire And An Explosion?

A fire occurs when oxygen is rapidly consumed, producing heat and light.  This is a chemical process involving a fuel and an oxidizer which produce energy, an “exothermic” event.

An explosion occurs when energy expands rapidly from the source and there is a dangerous shock wave.  This is, technically, a purely physical process.  Explosions can occur without any combustion or fire.  For example, we handled a maritime injury case involving a pneumatic loading arm under pressure, which exploded and caused severe injuries and amputation.  But the incident did not involve fire or combustion.

Many catastrophic industrial, offshore, oilfield and work injury events include both a fire and an explosion.  For that reason, it is easy to confuse the two processes.  But fires and explosions are, scientifically, two different things.

Explosion Fuel Sources

The causes of explosions vary.  However, there are certain explosions that our fire and explosion lawyers see frequently in the work injury and wrongful death context.

  1. Chemical Explosions
  2. Liquid Explosions
  3. Vapor Explosions
  4. Solids Explosions
  5. Flash Fires

Explosion Ignition Sources

Common ignition sources of fires and explosions include:

  • Static electricity and other electrical discharge
  • Sparks
  • Pyrophoric materials such as iron sulfide
  • Electrical conductors and equipment
  • Overcurrent and overload
  • Short circuit
  • Synthetic clothing fibers
  • Lightning
  • Gas burners and pilot lights
  • Machinery
  • Appliances
  • Dust collection devices
  • Flashlights, radios, cameras

What’s This About Oxygen?

Technically, an explosion can occur without oxygen.  For example, in outer space, exploding stars (“supernovas”) are caused by nuclear and gravitational forces.

Our explosion injury lawyers have also handled gas pressure explosions, which occur in things like boiler explosions and pressurized loading arm explosions.  Those do not necessarily require outside oxygen either.

Most work injury explosion cases, however, involve a chemical reaction and burning.  Those generally require outside oxygen or an oxidizer, and sometimes both.

An oxidizer accepts or “strips” electrons from another substance.  This can release energy and cause ignition in and of itself.  More frequently, oxidizers accelerate combustion—making the combustion event worse, more expansive, faster, or all of the above.

As is discussed above, generally, if any of the three legs of the “fire triangle” are broken, a fire or explosion typically cannot occur.  A properly planned work operation typically involves eliminating as many of the three legs as is possible.  Many people are surprised to learn that, oftentimes, oxygen is the easiest of the three legs to eliminate.  For example, in a petroleum service operation, sometimes there will necessarily be a fuel source (the oil or gas product) present.  A well-planned and safe operation may require oxygen to be eliminated from the process, as well as the ignition source.  For example, a vacuum truck offloading operation or a refinery tank cleaning operation may be conducted safely through the use of a nitrogen blanket, which removes oxygen from the process.

Who Is At Fault For An Explosion?

Oil & gas companies are required to follow certain safety procedures, but many employers fail to do so. The explosion injury attorneys at Morrow & Sheppard LLP have seen numerous cases where oil & gas companies were negligent in their duties to properly maintain machinery and equipment. However, even if an oil & gas company does everything correctly according to safety standards, it can still be found liable for an explosion if it hires the wrong person for a job or negligently fails to train employees or keep proper records about who is working near machinery and on what.

In cases such as these, the root cause of an explosion is not due to any single thing; instead, it stems from multiple negligent decisions made over time. For example, even if an oil & gas company follows all of the safety procedures, an explosion can still happen if one employee is working with the equipment without proper training.

Similarly, it may be difficult to pinpoint who or what was at fault for an accident which took place on a platform. All the evidence points to the offshore oil rig being properly maintained and its employees being adequately trained, but the machinery used to drill a hole for oil or gas exploded. In cases such as these, it can be extremely challenging to determine who exactly is liable for what happened.

In some situations involving offshore oil rigs and other industrial plants, parts of larger oil & gas companies are held responsible because they could have prevented an explosion. For example, an explosion may occur which injures a welder who is working on a job. The welder can sue the company he or she was employed by and the oil & gas company that contracted him.

It’s important for oil & gas companies to follow all of the safety precautions required of them and to ensure that their employees are not negligent about any aspect of their jobs. When they fail to do so and another person is injured, the law expects companies to pay for their mistakes.

Explosion Injury Lawyers Get To The Bottom Of What Happened

Our fire and explosion investigation attorneys are contacted by families all the time.   Yes–they want, need, and are entitled to compensation for their injuries or loss of a loved one.  But they also want to know what happened.  They want to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen to someone else.

Our experienced explosion lawyers at Morrow & Sheppard LLP take this role seriously.  We have spent millions of dollars hiring expert engineers and fire investigators, visiting explosion sites, and doing what it takes to investigate the causes of work-related fires and explosions.  We have always been told and are hopeful that our clients are proud of the work we have done investigating fires and explosions, and can provide references in that regard.

If you are reading this, and you or a loved one has been a victim of a fire or explosion, we would appreciate the opportunity to do the same for you and your family.

Practice Areas We Handle

Our experienced Houston personal injury attorneys want to understand your unique situation so we can provide legal guidance that will help you obtain a favorable result. We have experience handling a wide variety of personal injury cases. We offer a free, no-obligation consultation, contact us today! You don’t pay us unless we win your case.

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Offshore Accidents

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Railroad Accidents & FELA

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Workplace Injuries

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Oil Rig Explosions

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Traumatic Brain Injuries

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Chris West is an excellent addition to the Morrow & Sheppard team. His skill set, dedication, and overall reliability he brings to the firm and clients are uncanny. You will not be disappointed.
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I highly recommend the Morrow & Sheppard to anyone. They are an incredible group that did an outstanding job to make sure I got the highest settlement for my case. Attorney Daniel and his staff are all outstanding professionals with some serious case law knowledge and skill. His group went the... extra mile for me and because of that, my life has forever changed. Thank you Attorney Daniel and everyone that’s a part of his firm that worked so hard. I really appreciate you!read more
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I am Extremely Happy with Morrow & Sheppard Lawfirm. I worked closely with Daniel Sheppard and Chris on my case. They were diligent in handling my law case matter to resolution. Daniel would keep me up to date with the status of my case and Chris would also ensure all my paper work was submitted... in a timely manner. I am Very Happy with the Outcome! Thank you Daniel and Chris. I highly recommend their services and would not hesitate to use them again.read more
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Very strong and courageous law firm I recommend to anyone who has suffered a injury from companies who need to be held responsible for lack of safety and security, my family is set for life and with these lawyers never backing down and fighting for truth behind every case and seeking the best... future for our family has given our family a second chance at being able to make it in life and holding companies accountable lifting burdens off our lives, very proud and beyond blessed to have had them fight the fight and have a tremendous outcome for our future. Along with a great and kind staff we HIGHLY recommend this law firm.read more
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Very strong and courageous law firm I recommend to anyone who has suffered a injury from companies who need to be held responsible for lack of safety and security, my family is set for life and with these lawyers never backing down and fighting for truth behind every case and seeking the best... future for our family has given our family a second chance at being able to make it in life and holding companies accountable lifting burdens off our lives, very proud and beyond blessed to have had them fight the fight and have a tremendous outcome for our future. Along with a great and kind staff we HIGHLY recommend Marrow&Sheppard LLP.(Nick Marrow)(John Sheppard)read more
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I was a client for 2.5 years after a car accident in 2019 and represented by Patrick McGinnis. He was knowledgable, compassionate, and level headed.His assisting paralegal, Ramona Anaya, was reliable, knowledgable, and kind in all our interactions.They went above and beyond to help me navigate... everything that unfolded after my car accident. They were able to secure a favorable settlement before trial.I’m very happy to have had Morrow&Sheppard Firm represent me.read more
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After a car accident last year I went to Morrow & Sheppard for assistance. Jose and Chris were exceptionally accommodating and handled my case with professionalism. They're primary concern was my well being and they went above and beyond to ensure I would receive the best settlement possible. A... very efficient and dedicated team!read more
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00:17 15 Feb 22
I was injured and my business closed down due to an accident in 2016. Daniel Sheppard became my greatest asset. He hired professional experts for their views and opinions as well as conducting numerous depositions. Daniel is hard working and no nonsense when handling your case. Daniel keeps you... informed on what's going on and what to expect. I'm from Louisiana and my case was in Texas. Daniel Sheppard worked alone side my other attorney Yuri Beck, and the both of them did a fantastic job representing me and settling my case. Daniel Sheppard of Morrow & Sheppard in Texas and Yuri Beck of Hunter & Beck in Louisiana are my lawyers for LIFE.read more
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14:24 04 Jan 22
Nick Morrow and John Sheppard were the lead attorneys on my case to hold an apartment complex with inadequate security responsible for the death of my son. The two of them were focused and determined to represent me and my son's children with tenacity. As the case continued over time, it became... apparent that we were not merely clients that were a means to a financial end to them but people who had experienced a life changing and devastating loss. They realized that as a result of our loss, there needed to be accountability that could only be obtained through legal actions. Throughout the legal process, Nick Morrow and John Sheppard were not only professional and transparent but also compassionate and empathetic as they lead us through the difficult and sometimes confusing legal maze. Every person in their office that was involved with our case exemplified an extension of the genuine concern that began with attorneys Morrow and Sheppard. I have and will continue to recommend this firm to individuals who find themselves in need of legal representation.read more
Rosie E.
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18:18 23 Nov 21
Nick Marrow and John Sheppard were the lead attorneys on my case to hold an apartment complex with inadequate security responsible for the death of my son. The two of them were focused and determined to represent me and my son's children with tenacity. As the case continued over time, it became... apparent that we were not merely clients that were a means to a financial end to them but people who had experienced a life changing and devastating loss. They realized that as a result of our loss, there needed to be accountability that could only be obtained through legal actions. Throughout the legal process, Nick Marrow and John Sheppard were not only professional and transparent but also compassionate and empathetic as they lead us through the difficult and sometimes confusing legal maze. Every person in their office that was involved with our case exemplified an extension of the genuine concern that began with attorneys Marrow and Sheppard. I have and will continue to recommend this firm to individuals who find themselves in need of legal representation.read more
Rosie E.
Rosie E.
17:17 23 Nov 21
The legal team at Morrow and Shepherd worked hard to help me win my case where a motorist who caused the accident changed her story and lied about the accident. A previous attorney kept telling me that I would probably have to pay some of the medical costs out of my own pocket.Daniel, my... attorney, assured me that he would it is best to make sure this did not happen and that he would fight to get me the best compensation possible. He was true to his word.I'm happy with their work, happy with the compensation and would definitely use them again.The Legal Assistant, Chris, was always professional, friendly and polite and a pleasure to work with.A big thanks to the team!Donread more
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01:52 21 Nov 21
Nick and his group have helped where they can and are working hard to get a resolution to my injuries. I spoke with 4 different law firms prior to choosing Morrow & Sheppard LLP.ThanksJeff
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My Husband was injured at work, & with not knowing what to do or where to turn.We can say Thanks to John,& Jimenez @ Marrow & Sheppard,that represented my Husband we are very Satisfy & happy with the outcome and would recommend them to any others seeking professional lawyers. thanks to Morrow &... Sheppard.read more
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I was referred to Daniel Sheppard because of a car accident I had been in. I was very impressed with how he told me about the process of how things worked and the things to expect. He was very forth coming and always supportive. The experience was a positive one and ended on a great note! I highly... recommend him.Elizabeth Varonread more
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Before I engaged John Sheppard, I was concerned that I might lose my case. However, John came onboard, turned things around, and set me on a good course to win. He got up to speed quickly on the facts and determined exactly what we needed to do. He is great at strategy, filing discovery and... other motions, and arguing before the court. I was extremely pleased with the outcome of my case. If you need legal help in a personal injury action, commercial law or whatever, hire him immediately! He is a pleasure to work with, will thoroughly explain all to you in a manner you can understand, and will get you the best possible outcome. A+++read more
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I was in a Commercial vehicle accident 2019. I was seriously injured & still trying to heal. My life was completely turned upside-down. Morrow & Sheppard received a call from me & helped me immediately. They listened to every detail and cared about all my pain & suffering. They were on top of my... case from beginning to end. I was sent to therapy and surgeons always given the medical treatment I needed. Moriah was phenomenal... she cared about me. She wanted me to get the justice I deserved. Chris & Michelle were always helping me..No matter what time it was they would always respond to my calls. My attorney John, was awesome!..He went out of his way to get justice for me. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND Morrow & Sheppard. They will FIGHT FOR YOU. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐read more
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I had the opportunity to work with Nick and his team on a case. They were professional and ready to work. But more importantly, they passionate about representing their client. I have no problem referring my friends and family to Nick and his team because I know they will be taken care of!
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Nick Morrow is a GREAT lawyer that really knows his job. He made me feel comfortable about hiring him to handle my case. He’s trustworthy and very compassionate about his work. His staff is awesome also, everyone was nice and friendly to me when I visited the office. The settlement I received... exceeded my expectations, it was four times what I expected. I would highly recommend Morrow and Sheppard to anyone needing legal representation. Thanks again Nick!!read more
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I was injured working offshore. Morrow & Sheppard handled my maritime case and won a great settlement for me. If you have been injured at work, Morrow & Sheppard are great offshore injury lawyers.
tim C.
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02:19 30 Nov 19
Morrow & Sheppard won my family a multimillion dollar settlement in a wrongful death case after my kids’ father died. The settlement money will help make sure my family is taken care of, and that my kids can go to college. If you have a wrongful death case or a loved one dies at work, call Morrow... & Sheppard. They will take care of you.read more
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16:26 27 Nov 19
I worked with Nick Morrow, John Sheppard, Daniel Sheppard, Patrick McGinnis, and Chris West on my maritime injury case. These guys were incredible. I was injured badly working on a tugboat, and was forced to leave my career. These lawyers assured me I had a right to recover damages under the Jones... Act, even when several other lawyers turned down my case. Morrow & Sheppard went above and beyond. They took on costs like hiring expensive experts and taking depositions so that I could be in the best position to prove my case. I watched them handle every excuse the defense lawyers threw at me, and ultimately forced the defendant’s hand in to paying me what I deserved. Morrow & Sheppard always kept me informed and up to date on my case, and developed a personal relationship with me. I would give them the highest recommendation. I still keep in touch with them, and look forward to seeing them whenever I pass through Houston.read more
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19:50 18 Nov 19
Morrow & Sheppard helped me when my employer breached my contract. They took the case from start to finish, and won our trial. If you’ve been injured or wronged at work, call Morrow & Sheppard.
Ky E.
Ky E.
22:53 14 Nov 19
I suffered a work injury when the work vehicle I was riding in was involved in an accident with another car. Morrow & Sheppard took my case and won a great settlement for me. If you need a work injury attorney, I highly recommend Morrow & Sheppard.
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00:39 12 Nov 19
These guys were there when I needed help and advisement..Don’t waste your money or time going elsewhere..thank you Nick and thank you to Chris also..great people
Steven K.
Steven K.
14:43 05 Jan 19
Nick Morrow and John Sheppard are the best. I was paralyzed in a work injury. Several other lawyers turned down my case. Morrow & Sheppard hired expensive experts, took dozens of depositions, and proved my case. I saw them in court against a team of defense lawyers, and the defense lawyers... didn’t stand a chance. Morrow & Sheppard took my case all the way when nobody else would. Now my family is set up for life. Throughout the process, they kept me updated and made me feel like I was more than a number. I still talk to Nick to this day. Morrow & Sheppard exceeded my expectations in every way, and I cannot recommend them enough. If you are injured at work, call Morrow & Sheppard.read more
jeff H.
jeff H.
23:20 17 Oct 18
John Sheppard and Nick Morrow were two of the brightest stars in my law school class and my class of lawyers at Fulbright & Jaworski, one of the most elite and prestigious law firms in Houston and Texas. I have known both of them for well over a decade now and throughout that time they have both... always lived up to the highest standards of intellect, tenacity, and professionalism. They are both winners. If you need a Houston lawyer who will stand up for your rights and get you the justice you deserve, I wholeheartedly recommend Morrow & Sheppard. read more
Holt L.
Holt L.
20:39 17 Jul 15
John Sheppard, with Morrow & Sheppard LLP, is brilliant. On more than one occasion, he successfully represented various affiliated companies I was part of. John is very diligent, thorough and fights hard for righteousness. There were numerous times that he helped us through extremely difficult... moments. John is very professional, responsive and respectful. I highly endorse Morrow and Sheppard LLP for legal representation and/or legal assistance needs. read more
Don K.
Don K.
21:19 15 Jul 15
My experience with John, at Morrow and Sheppard, during my company’s litigation was better than I could have imagined (considering the circumstances of being involved in litigation). What stood out to me the most, was John’s tenacity in preparation. I later realized this came from two places, one... he didn’t want to lose and two (and most importantly) he CARED so much about me getting justice. I cannot stress this enough, when you are dealing with a lawyer that truly cares, then all of the other stresses I had around the case seemed to go away. I was always kept up to date with what was going on in our case, and he always made it very clear he was just an email or call away! In addition to these attributes, he also knows the law and is willing to fight for what is right! It would be tough to find another lawyer that is as highly effective, skilled, knowledgeable, ethical and has such an impeccable reputation (which is well deserved). I would recommend Morrow and Sheppard to anyone seeking out a law firm, in the event they needed counsel.read more
Brian R
Brian R
16:04 14 Jul 15
Nick and John are a great team. They are both honest, trustworthy and have a tenacious work ethic on behalf of their clients. They stand behind these qualities, having left partnerships at great law firms to commit 100% to achieving results for individuals and businesses. They will fight for... you and I'm proud to call them clients and friends.read more
Jim B.
Jim B.
13:58 13 Jul 15
John and Nick are outstanding lawyers. They are both extremely sharp, skilled, hard-working, and passionate about what they do. I would highly recommend either of them to anyone looking for high-level service that also happens to be affordable.
Will M.
Will M.
22:08 10 Jul 15
Morrow & Sheppard would be my first call for legal assistance. I have known Nick Morrow for years and I cannot say enough positive things about him. He is smart, dedicated, ethical, dependable, and very thorough with every client. I would strongly recommend this firm to anyone looking for top of... the line legal assistance. read more
Anne Louise C.
Anne Louise C.
15:28 24 Jun 15
Morrow & Sheppard LLP is an outstanding law firm. I have known Nick Morrow for many years. He is honest, hardworking, and very attentive to his clients. I could not recommend him enough for your legal needs.
Caroline B.
Caroline B.
21:25 23 Jun 15
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