Employees (Plaintiff and Intervenor) of Loredo Construction, Inc. (“LCI”), one of the named defendant in Plaintiff’s and Intervenor’s claims under Section 905(b) of the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act, filed suit against LCI and The Grand, Ltd., because of an accident that occurred while The Grand’s vessel was placed in drydock for repairs. The Grand owned the subject vessel, a derrick barge, and turned it over to LCI for repairs. Plaintiff and Intervenor were assigned the responsibility of repairing and refurbshing the vessel, including the pressure testing of tank P1. Testing P1 required Plaintiff and Intervenor to seal the tank with a hatch cover. While doing so, “the hatch came off while still under pressure, causing the accident that is the subject of this suit.”
LCI and The Grand filed motions for summary judgment. LCI contended that it did not own or operate the vessel, and it did not breach any duty a vessel owner might own. The Grand argued that, while it was the owner of the vessel, the vessel had been turned over to LCI at the time of the accident. Further, The Grand aserted that it had no duty to inspect or supervise the repairs, and no duty to intervene. The repairs were the cause of the accident, and The Grand had no duty to deliver the vessel in a “hazard-free” condition.
The United States District Court, Southern District of Texas, agreed. Section 905(b) requires a vessel owner to warn a stevedore of hidden danger that would have been known to the owner in the exercise of reasonable caution. See Scindia Steam Navigation Co. v. De Los Santos, 451 U.S. 156 (1981). This duty does not extend to supervision or inspection to discover dangerous conditions within the confines of the cargo operations. Id. The Fifth Circuit previously reasoned that if an owner has no control over the ship or the repair work that creates the danger, it is not liable. Stass v. American Commercial Lines, Inc., 720 F.2d 879, 883 (5th Cir. 1983).
Here, summary judgment was proper because no material disputed fact existed: “It is not material to this case, in particular, that there are disputes between the witness[es] concerning the details of the event. It is material that the vessel was in drydock undergoing repairs. It is also material that the scope of the repair work included pressure testing various tanks including the P1 tank. Whether the hatch cover on the P1 tank had been replaced or not, it was within the scope of work for which repairs were commissioned. Certainly pressure testing the P1 tank would require the hatch cover to pass inspection, whether replaced or not.” In other words, the scope of pressure testing a tank extends to the hatch cover. Both LCI’s and The Grand’s motions for summary judgment were granted.
Velez v. Laredo Offshore Services, Inc., 2010 WL 2757489 (S.D. Tex. 2010) (slip copy).
(Note: I originally published this post on Navigable Waters: A Maritime, Longshore and Defense Base Act Blog.)