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SAM H. BROWN, MRS. WINONA BROWN, UNITED STATES FIDELITY AND GUARANTY COMPANY AND B. A. JONES CASING CREWS, INC. v. R. E. WILLIAMS

FEBRUARY 11, 1987

SAM H. BROWN, MRS. WINONA BROWN, UNITED STATES FIDELITY AND GUARANTY COMPANY AND B. A. JONES CASING CREWS, INC.
v.
R. E. WILLIAMS, D/B/A R. E. WILLIAMS DRILLING COMPANY, P. E. COCHRAN, PHIL E. VASSER & EL TORO PRODUCTION COMPANY, INC., ET AL.



BEFORE ROY NOBLE LEE, PRATHER and ANDERSON

ROY NOBLE LEE, PRESIDING JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:

Sam H. Brown and Winona Brown, husband and wife, filed suit in the Chancery Court of Adams County, Mississippi, (attachment in chancery) against R. E. Williams, d/b/a R. E. Williams Drilling Company (Williams), P. E. Cochran, R. R. (Bob) Pevey, and H. W. McFarland, employees of Williams, B. J. Hughes, Inc., and Hughes Tool Company, for personal injuries sustained by Sam H. Brown while setting casing on an oil well being drilled by Williams. B. A. Jones Casing Crews, Inc., (Jones) employer of Brown, and United States Fidelity & Guaranty Company, workers' compensation carrier for Jones, intervened in this suit, seeking reimbursement for workers' compensation benefits paid. The lower court entered judgment for the defendants and the complainants have appealed to this Court. *fn1

The discussion in this case will be divided into two parts. The first part relates to B. J. Hughes, Inc., which was made a party under the theory of products liability, since it manufactured the equipment/tool involved. The second part relates to R. E. Williams, d/b/a R. E. Williams Drilling Company, and R. R. (Bob) Pevey, and deals with the charge of negligence on their parts and whether they are immune from liability under the Mississippi Workers' Compensation Law.

 The appellants charged in the bill of complaint, which was filed prior to the adoption of the Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure, grounds for the action against Hughes to be (1) negligence in design of the equipment/tool, (2) negligence in failing to test and inspect the equipment, (3) negligence in failing to warn Brown, and (4) breach of expressed and implied warranties. For the purpose of this discussion, we view the complaint as having charged a products liability violation against Hughes.

 On September 15, 1976, Williams was drilling an oil well in Catahoula Parrish, Louisiana, under a contract with

 one Paul Byrne, operator of the well. Pevey was the tool pusher or overall supervisor of the drilling operations. Pevey called B. A. Jones Casing Crews, Inc. and requested a casing crew to set the casing pipe of the well. That work was a special type work performed by specialists in the field, such as Jones. Appellant Brown was the crew pusher in one of Jones' casing crews, and he and his crew arrived at the drilling site that day to perform the specialized task of setting casing.

 A piece of equipment called an elevator was used in the process of setting casing for the purpose of clamping, lifting, hoisting and setting joints of casing in the drill hole. Appellant Brown tried to rent one of Jones' elevators to Williams for the purpose of the operation, but Williams had an elevator of its own, and Pevey directed appellant Brown to use that elevator.

 Two methods of setting *fn2 casing are commonly used in a drilling operation such as here, i.e., the one-step method and the two-step method. Brown, as crew pusher, was instructed by Pevey to rig the elevator and use the one-step method of running the casing. A necessary piece of equipment in both operations is an elevator, which clamps around the casing joint, then it latches and is used to elevate or lift the casing to a position in place where the casing is guided into the drill hole and fastened to another joint or casing.

 Appellant Brown and his crew began the task of setting the casing. The elevator was clamped around the casing joint and Brown closed the latch. The casing was then hoisted above Brown, the latch came loose, and the joint of casing fell upon Brown, seriously injuring him.

 A. THE COURT WAS MANIFESTLY IN ERROR AS A MATTER OF LAW IN APPLYING THE LAW OF NEGLIGENCE AND NOT "STRICT LIABILITY." THE LAW APPLICABLE TO THIS CASE IS "STRICT LIABILITY."

 B. THE COURT WAS MANIFESTLY IN ERROR IN ITS FINDING OF FACTS IN THAT THE CONCLUSIVE AND UNCONTRADICTED FACTS PROVED LIABILITY ON HUGHES UNDER STRICT LIABILITY IN TORT.

 C. THE COURT MISCONSTRUED HUGHES' DUTY WITH RESPECT TO DESIGN LIABILITY.

 Evidence for the appellees reflects that the equipment/tool, hereinafter referred to as elevator, was designed and manufactured by Hughes and had been in use for a

 period of twenty-eight (28) years and five (5) months prior to the accident. Hughes had never been called upon to repair or do any work on the elevator since it had left that company.

 R. C. Johnson, vice president of engineering for Hughes and an expert in the field, testified that the type of elevator involved here was manufactured between 1922 to 1925 until 1975, when it was taken off the market and replaced with another line of elevators of higher capacity as far as weight is concerned; that there was nothing wrong with the elevator and its design; that there were no functional complaints of any sort against that type elevator during the years it was manufactured and used; that the company had never had any report of a door latch opening, as here; that neither Hughes nor any of its competitors before 1948 and 1976 had any safety chains on their elevator latches; that the elevator in this case without a safety chain was reasonably safe for its intended use; that once the latch is latched there is no load trying to push the latch off; that the casing could not have fallen out of the elevator if the latch had been latched; and that Brown and the casing crew failed to properly latch the door, which resulted in the door falling open.

 Johnson further testified that, if the latch on the elevator was loose on the day of the accident, if the spring was weak, if the elevator was rusty, and if the elevator appeared to be worn out the elevator was not in the same condition as when Hughes sold the elevator and when it left Hughes' plant; that the elevator, which was introduced in evidence and was in the courtroom, was not in the same condition as when Hughes manufactured and sold it. Witnesses with experience in oil field drilling testified and corroborated much of the testimony of Johnson.

 Appellant Brown testified that he used the elevator and the one-step method because Pevey instructed him to do it that way and that the directions that Pevey gave caused the accident to happen; that the elevator was not safe; that the spring felt loose on the latch; that the elevator did not have a safety chain on it; that the elevator was rusty and looked like it was worn out; and that elevators have to be repaired at times by putting new springs and new pins in them. Appellant Brown produced lay witnesses and two expert witnesses on the issue that the elevator was defectively designed and manufactured and negligently used by Williams.

 The chancellor made the following findings from ...


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