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Holman v. W-Industries of Louisiana, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Monroe Division

January 22, 2015

DENNIS E. HOLMAN AND YOLANDA HOLMAN,
v.
W-INDUSTRIES OF LOUISIANA, LLC, ET AL

RULING

ROBERT G. JAMES, District Judge.

Pending before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 118] filed by Defendant UP Systems, Inc., and its Custom Power Division ("UP Systems"). Plaintiffs Dennis and Yolanda Holman ("the Holmans") have filed an opposition memorandum [Doc. No. 124], and UP Systems has filed a reply memorandum [Doc. No. 130].

For the following reasons, the Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

UP Systems is a manufacturer of uninterrupted power equipment that is routinely used in offshore applications. Essentially, the equipment is a series of rechargeable batteries.

Plaintiff Dennis Holman ("Holman") worked as a production operator for Greystar Corporation ("Greystar") aboard the ATP Titan, a complex structure serving as both a drilling platform and production facility in the Telemark Field in the Gulf of Mexico. The Holmans brought this personal injury lawsuit after Holman slipped and fell while working on the ATP Titan.

In October of 2007, UP Systems manufactured nineteen pieces of equipment, including twelve battery chargers, which were intended to provide an uninterrupted power supply to the ATP Titan. The equipment was installed by other contractors and/or shipyard personnel and incorporated into the ATP Titan's electrical system.[1]

The ATP Titan's Process Control System ("PCS") monitored and controlled processes on the platform when in normal operating ranges. The Process Safety System ("PSS"), also known as the Emergency Safety System, took over in emergency situations when the processes were operating outside normal ranges. The PSS monitored and controlled UP Systems' equipment, which provided backup battery power. In turn, the PSS was controlled by the Programmable Logic Control ("PLC"), which is the "brain for the platform." [Doc. No. 118, Exh. A, Deposition of Cody Dupre ("Dupre Depo."), p. 85]. All automated devices on the platform were ultimately controlled by the PLC.

Problems with UP Systems' equipment, including the 12208/4502B battery charger[2] at issue in this litigation, would manifest through the ATP Titan's common alarm system and display a fault via several screens located in the control room manned by Greystar.

Shortly before Holman's slip and fall, at Greystar's direction, W-Industries installed a shunt trip on the 12208 battery charger. Before installation of the shunt trip, if the voltage or current dropped below a set value on the battery charger's low voltage relay, an alarm would be triggered, but the battery charger would continue to operate. The shunt trip is a "circuit breaker that, in addition to tripping on overloads, can be tripped electronically; [sic] for example, at a designated low voltage." [Doc. No. 118, p. 3, n. 6]. After installation of the shunt trip, if the voltage dipped below the set value, an alarm would still be triggered, but the breaker would also trip, causing the battery charger to stop operating.

The battery chargers operated on a 24-volt system. When UP Systems manufactured the equipment, the low voltage relay factory setting should have been 21 volts, and the factory relay setting should not have been changed after installation. In order to change the setting, someone would have to use a small screwdriver to turn the relay from one setting to another. However, according to Greystar's lead instruments and electrical ("I & T") technician, Cody Dupre ("Dupre"), over time, vibrations on the platform can also "walk" the setting either higher or lower. [Doc. No. 118, Exh. A, Dupre Depo., p. 66].[3]

While W-Industries was installing the shunt trips, UP Systems' technician, Richard Reed ("Reed"), came to the ATP Titan to service the equipment. He was on the platform to address a number of issues with the equipment, including problems with battery chargers 12207 and 12208 which had previously caused the system to go on battery power on or about October 24, 2010. [Doc. No. 130, Exh. F, Reed Depo., pp. 84-85]. This incident had prompted an email from Jason Martinez ("Martinez") of W-Industries to Patrick Thomas ("Thomas") of UP Systems, but the email was not shown to Reed, and the October 24 incident was not the only reason Reed was on the ATP Titan. According to Reed, the UP Systems equipment was "quite a nasty mess" because it had been improperly installed horizontally. [Doc. No. 130, Exh. F., Reed Depo., p. 58]. In addition to working with W-Industries on installation of the shunt trips, Reed addressed problems with several battery chargers and problems in the hull.

As part of his work, Reed did troubleshoot the October 24th incident when the system went on battery power, but found no problems with the hardware or bad fuses. [Doc. No. 130, Exh. F., Reed Depo., p. 89]. On October 30, 2010, Reed also performed work on the 12208 battery charger to ensure that the link between the W-Industries shunt trip and the battery charger would not cause false alarms, but would indicate actual problems with the system.[4] Reed has "no recollection of having to make or check any adjustments" to the low voltage setting on the 12208 battery charger relay. [Doc. No. 118, Exh. B, Reed Depo., p. 92].[5] Reed did not perform any further work on the 12208 battery charger after October 30th, and Reed's records showed that he had not made adjustments to the relay for this battery charger during other trips to the ATP Titan. Id. ; see also id. at Exh. D.

After completing work on the 12208 battery charger, Reed remained on the ATP Titan, performing other work on UP Systems' equipment. Reed finished his work and left the ATP Titan on the afternoon of November 3, 2010.

In the late afternoon or early evening of November 3, 2010, the current dipped below 23 volts, an alarm sounded, the Greystar control room was notified of a problem, and the shunt trip caused the circuit breaker to trip battery charger 12208. However, Dupre had told Greystar personnel to ignore the alarms generated by the battery chargers because of the ongoing work on the battery chargers. The Greystar control room employees ignored the alarms, which continued over the next five and one-half hours, and consequently the battery for the PSS circuit was drained. The ATP Titan's PLC then allegedly interpreted the drained battery as a "worst case scenario, " such as an explosion or fire, causing the Emergency Shut Down and Deluge System ("ESDDS") to activate.

On the date of the incident, Holman was in the galley eating cereal. He heard a loud "boom" and felt the platform sway. [Doc. No. 120, Exhibit A, Holman Depo., pp. 89-90].[6] Shortly thereafter, at approximately 10:30 p.m., the emergency shut-in alarm sounded, and the lights went out.

There were allegedly reports of a gas release from the process area. In response, Holman's supervisor, Deral Cox ("Cox"), sent him below the platform to "kill the electrical pump" and stop any release. Id.

Because the water deluge system had begun to operate, spraying the platform with tens of thousands of gallons of water in order to suppress a potential fire, the piping and deck were wet and slippery. Hydrocarbons on the stairs also made them slippery. As Holman ascended a stairwell, his grip slipped, and he stumbled backwards, falling down the stairs and injuring his back.

After the accident, Holman returned to the control room. By that time, the lights were back on, and the emergency generator was operating. Holman was off the remainder of his shift and was taken to shore by helicopter the next day. He did not return to work.

Dupre investigated the emergency activation incident (not Holman's slip and fall) and found that the low voltage relay for battery charger 12208 had been set at 23 volts.[7] In his opinion, the incorrect setting is what caused the ensuing events. Because Reed had recently worked on the 12208 battery charger, as well as other UP Systems' equipment, Dupre assumed and stated in his report that Reed had changed the setting. However, neither Dupre nor anyone else saw Reed set the low voltage relay at 23 volts. During his deposition, Dupre also admitted that he did not want the stunt trips installed because he had previous experience with vibrations on a platform causing the relay setting to "walk" up or down.

After the November 3, 2010 incident, Dupre contacted UP Systems and was given permission and instructions on how to re-set the system to 21 volts. The shunt trips were removed approximately one week later. There were no further incidents after Dupre re-set the low voltage relay.[8] If the low voltage relay had been set at 21 volts, the loss of power would likely never have occurred.[9]

On October 21, 2011, the Holmans brought suit against W-Industries of Louisiana, LLC ("W-Industries"), asserting claims under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act ("OCSLA"). The Holmans originally alleged that W-Industries, which performed repair and maintenance services on the ATP Titan, was liable because its technicians negligently set the low voltage "trip level" for the ESDDS at 23 volts, which ultimately caused the ...


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