In its decision in DAVIS v. DYNAMIC OFFSHORE RESOURCES, L.L.C. decided on May 12, 2017, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment in favor of Dynamic Offshore as a platform owner. Dynamic owned and operated offshore platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. Davis, a crane mechanic employed by Gulf Crane Services, was allegedly injured during a personnel basket transfer to Dynamic’s platform. No Dynamic employees were present at the platform. Independent contractors employed the lead operator, the crane operator and all other workers on the platform. Davis brought suit against Dynamic for negligence and gross negligence. The district court granted summary judgment to Dynamic, holding Dynamic was not vicariously liable for the alleged negligence of its independent contractors. Davis appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Dynamic, but the Fifth Circuit affirmed in favor of Dynamic.
The Fifth Circuit noted that under Louisiana law applicable to the fixed platform: “It is well established that a principal is not liable for the activities of an independent contractor committed in the course of performing its duties under the contract.” Louisiana law recognizes two exceptions to this general rule: (1) “a principal may not escape liability arising out of ultrahazardous activities which are contracted out to an independent contractor”; and (2) “a principal is liable for the acts of an independent contractor if he exercises operational control over those acts or expressly or impliedly authorizes an unsafe practice.” The two issues on appeal were: (1) whether personnel-basket transfers are ultrahazardous activity; and (2) whether Dynamic authorized an unsafe working condition.
First, the appeals court held that personnel-basket transfers are not ultrahazardous activity because they, “require substandard conduct to cause injury.” Instead, they recognized that Louisiana law will only consider whether an activity is per se (necessarily or in and of itself) ultrahazardous, not whether an activity in specific conditions is ultrahazardous.
Second, they held Dynamic did not authorize an unsafe working condition. If ,“work is done in an unsafe manner, the [principal] will be liable if he has expressly or impliedly authorized the particular manner which will render the work unsafe, and not otherwise.” Dynamic was, “entitled to rely on the expertise of its independent contractor” in operating the personnel-basket transfers. Here, they found Dynamic did not have the duty to supervise to ensure that its, “independent contractor performs its obligations in a reasonably safe manner.”
You can read the full decision here: http://www.ca5.uscourts.gov/opinions/pub/16/16-40059-CV0.pdf