BEFORE ROY NOBLE LEE, PRATHER and SULLIVAN
ROY NOBLE LEE, CHIEF JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:
James Hall filed suit in the Circuit Court of Lamar County, Mississippi, against Fluor Corporation, et al., for personal injuries sustained in an explosion at the Amerada Hess refinery on December 26, 1983. Terry Smith and Ginger
Smith, his wife, also filed suit against Fluor Corporation, et al., for injuries sustained by Terry Smith in the explosion. The suits were consolidated and the lower court granted summary judgment in favor of Fluor Corporation, on the ground that the actions were barred under Mississippi Code Annotated 15-1-41 (1972). Hall and the Smiths have appealed here, assigning three errors in the trial below, viz:
I. THE LOWER COURT ERRED IN FINDING THAT MCA 15-1-41 BARRED APPELLANTS' CLAIM.
II. THE LOWER COURT ERRED IN FINDING THAT THE LEGISLATIVE SHORTENING OF THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS WITHIN MCA 15-1-41 APPLIED HEREIN.
III. THE LOWER COURT ERRED IN FINDING THAT MCA 15-1-41 BARRED APPELLANTS' CLAIM BECAUSE THAT STATUTE IS IN VIOLATION OF THE FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT OF THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES.
The complaints and the facts in the cases are identical. On December 26, 1983, the appellants were injured in a fire at the Black Creek Petroleum Refinery owned by their employer, Amerada Hess Corporation. They charge that Fluor Corporation "negligently and defectly designed, manufactured and installed the pre-heater/heat exchanger unit 6E-10 and associated valves and piping . . . ." Fluor's motion for summary judgment contended (1) the ten-year statute of limitations pertaining to improvements to real property bars the suits, and (2) the 6E-10 pre-heater had been substantially altered and was negligently misused by Amerada Hess since Fluor installed it in the 1950s, relieving Fluor from any liability. The lower court's summary judgment was based solely upon the statute of limitations issue.
The facts are uncontradicted and admitted by the parties. Fluor Corporation built the Black Creek refinery for Pontiac Eastern Corporation in the late 1950s, and Pontiac Eastern accepted the plant prior to February 18, 1958. In 1971, Amerada Hess purchased the plant from Pontiac Eastern.
Fluor Corporation has not been back on the premises since 1958, nor has it had anything to do with the refinery. Fluor has never given any advice in the operation, modification and maintenance of the refinery since delivering it to Pontiac Eastern Corporation in 1958. In 1964, Pontiac Eastern modified the 6E-10 heat exchanger by increasing its capacity by fifty percent (50%) adding a third set of fin
tubes and lengthening the inlet header. The inlet header is the section of pipe which burst.
The record indicates how that portion of the refinery operates where the explosion occurred. A hydrocarbon stream flows through a 6-inch pipe into the 6E-10 heat generator, which is a metal cylindrical vessel approximately 22 feet long. Hydrocarbon flows through a number of small tubes inserted lengthwise through the vessel and then into another portion of the plant known as the deisobutanizer tower (DIB). At the point where the hydrocarbon enters the heat exchanger, there is a large 6-inch pipe known as the inlet manifold. A valve is situated in the pipe before the gas stream enters the inlet manifold so that the flow of gas to the heat exchanger can be cut off. If a fissure occurs, the operator should open a bypass valve above the heat exchanger to allow the gas to flow around the heat exchanger and directly to the DIB. On the outlet side of the heat exchanger is another valve, the outlet valve, which likewise should be closed if the unit is bypassed in order that the heat exchanger would be closed at both ends and gas would not back up into the heat exchanger while it is bypassed.
As stated, Pontiac Eastern enlarged the capacity of the heat exchanger by adding an additional set of tubes in 1964, seven (7) years before Hess bought the refinery. The inlet manifold had to be lengthened and a new section of 6-inch pipe was welded into the end of it. Also, a drain valve was added at the end to drain water which might condense from the refining process and collect in the inlet manifold.
At the time of the accident in question, the 6E-10 heat exchanger had been bypassed. Hess had not used it for several years, and gas was flowing directly from previous parts of the refinery straight into the DIB without going through the heat exchanger. The inlet valve was closed so the gas could not enter the heat exchanger, but the bypass valve was open.
The outlet valve to the heat exchanger also was left open. The process superintendent for Hess admitted that it should have been closed. The outlet valve having been left open, it allowed hydrocarbons to pass into the pre-heater, though they were not being circulated as part of the normal gas flow. This allowed water vapor in the gas stream to condense and collect in the lowest portion of the pre-heater, which was the inlet manifold. During abnormally cold weather in December, 1983, water collected in the manifold, was not drained, and froze, bursting the pipe. When it thawed on December 26, a cloud of hydrocarbons escaped and was ignited,