Drilling Accident Shows Standards for Reasonable Care

A field service technician sued a crew boat operator and several entities related to the drilling operations when he was injured during a personnel basket transfer and a mobile drilling unit. The trial court, applying a “reasonable care” standard, granted summary judgment in favor of the drilling companies and the service technician, Callahan, appealed the decision.

Callahan, an employee of Cooper Cameron Corporation, was hired to help install, repair and replace equipment on the offshore oil well. While transferring the mobile drilling unit, the ship moved abruptly, causing Callahan’s back to pop and sharp pain to shoot through it. Callahan returned to his cabin and later executed a successful personnel basket transfer. Once he arrived on the barge, he reported his injury to the medic. Callahan argued various claims of negligence, revolving around the decision to transfer him to the barge in unreasonably dangerous conditions. However, according to the district court, since no employee of the crew boat directed Callahan to leave his cabin for transfer, these companies could not be held liable, particularly given Cooper Cameron Corporation’s “stop work” policy which gives employees the right to stop working if they find the conditions to be unsafe. Callahan clearly knew of this policy since he has used it before, but did not apply in these circumstances.

On appeal, Callahan claimed that the trial court made a mistake in finding that the conduct of the drilling companies (Diamond, Golf Logistics, Eagle Consulting, and LLOG) was reasonable and therefore in granting them summary judgment. Summary judgment is appropriate if “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact”. FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a). A material fact is one that might affect the outcome of the case if it is found in favor of a particular party.

To prove a tort claim, Callahan must prove that these companies owed him a duty, that there was a breach of that duty, that those companies were responsible for the breach, resulting in a need for damages. The appellate court affirmed the summary judgment motions in favor of LLOG, Diamond, and Eagle Consulting. However, it reversed the summary judgment order against Gulf Logistics.

While neither LLOG, nor Diamond were either directly or indirectly involved in providing a safe method for boarding and disembarking from the vessel, and were not exerting any control over this procedure. While Eagle Consulting was theoretically allowed to terminate conduct that its employees believed to be unsafe, this alone is not enough to create an issue of material fact as to the company’s liability for the actual decision to transfer Callahan. There is no evidenced that the company either knew of the rough sea conditions or was involved at all in the decision to transfer personnel under those conditions. Therefore, the summary judgment motion in favor of Eagle Consulting was properly decided.

However, Callahan’s evidence of the hazardous nature of the sea conditions is enough to create a material fact issue as to a breach of duty on Gulf Logistics part by setting up an unsafe personnel transfer. Therefore, the district court should not have granted summary judgment to Gulf Logistics. The appellate court reversed this decision and remanded it back down to the trial court.

If you believe your case was improperly dismissed due to a summary judgment motion, please contact the Berniard Law Firm for assistance.

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