Jonathan Goodie was employed by Weatherford International, Ltd., which was contracted by Exxon Oil Corporation to perform services aboard the Lena, an off-shore oil platform owned by Exxon. Exxon also contracted with West Coast Logistics for logistical support. Under that contract, West Coast was to provide a safety observer on the Lena. On May 23, 2013, Goodie and a Weatherford crew chief, John Bourgeois, were directed by two other Weatherford employees, Shane Comeaux and Shad Delhomme, to remove a tree cap in the lower well bay. When Goodie got to the tree cap, he discovered that it weighed around 112 pounds. Weatherford had a rule that required employees to use machinery to lift objects in excess of 50 pounds. By radio, Goodie requested a crane to lift the treat cap. Comeaux radioed back that Goodie and Bourgeois should “manhandle” the tree cap. Bourgeois freed the cap and handed it to Goodie, who carried it for a bit before dropping it due to his bad back. The cap fell onto some equipment and Goodie rushed to retrieve it. Again, Goodie dropped the cap because of his back. On August 2, 2013, Goodie filed suit against Exxon and West Coast alleging that they were negligent, failed to properly train their employees, failed to use proper equipment, and failed to warn and/or remedy a premises defect.
Exxon and West Coast filed motions for summary judgment. In Exxon’s motion, Exxon asserted that Weatherford (Goodie’s employer) was an independent contractor and Exxon had no authority to supervise Weatherford employees. The court held that Exxon did not retain operational control. The court rejected Goodie’s contention that Exxon’s control was demonstrated by having a “company man” on the platform who failed to intervene. Further, the court held that Exxon was not liable for failing to warn that the tree would require a mechanical lift because Goodie was aware that the tree cap was too heavy to be lifted manually. Ultimately, the court held that “plaintiff has not identified evidence that Exxon ever specifically involved itself in the safety of a crane operation or tree cap removal, other than acting as a passive observer.”
With respect to West Coast, the court held that there was no duty to provide third parties with personnel who would intervene when a safety issue arose. Further, the court noted that Goodie was ordered to remove the tree cap by Weatherford employees. The court also rejected Goodie’s argument that West Coast had a duty to provide a crane to lift the tree. Goodie argued that Paul Ingle, the West Coast safety observer on duty, should have intervened. The court disagreed, again noting that there is no duty to warn of a known hazard.
Take-Away: Where the owner of an oil rig does not involve itself in the rig’s operation beyond the role of passive observer, the owner has no duty to employees of independent contractors who are performing services on the rig. Further, this case reiterates the long-standing rule that there is no duty to warn of a known hazard.
This article was co-authored by Cami Capodice, a partner at Irwin Fritchie Urquhart & Moore LLC.