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JAMES HALL v. MISSISSIPPI CHEMICAL EXPRESS

MAY 18, 1988

JAMES HALL
v.
MISSISSIPPI CHEMICAL EXPRESS, INC., AND MACK TRUCKS, INC.



BEFORE DAN M. LEE, P.J.; ROBERTSON AND ZUCCARO, JJ.

ROBERTSON, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:

I.

This appeal is brought by an oil refinery worker seriously injured on the job. Having secured his less than generous but legally adequate remedy under our workers' compensation laws, the worker sued in tort naming every defendant he could find, hoping to find a deep pocket somewhere.

 The case is now down to two possible defendants - the manufacturer and owner/operator of the diesel truck whose "idling" is said to have ignited the conflagration and caused plaintiff's concededly serious injuries. The facts make clear that factually and legally these defendants' connection with the case is just too tenuous. The Circuit Court directed a verdict at the end of plaintiff worker's case. We affirm.

 II.

 James Hall is a 48-year-old resident of Gulfport, Mississippi. On December 26, 1983, Hall was an employee of Amerada Hess Corporation at the Black Creek Petroleum Refinery near Purvis, Mississippi. On that date Hall was injured in a fire on the refinery premises while in the course and scope of his employment.

 The facts regarding the fire were before the Court recently in Smith v. Fluor Corporation, 514 So.2d 1227 (Miss. 1987) - Hall was a plaintiff there, too - and those need not be repeated here in detail.

 Amerada Hess bought the refinery in 1971. We are concerned with the pre-heater/heat exchanger unit 6E-10 and associated valves and piping. Hess had not been using the heat exchanger for several years prior to the December 1983 explosion. The inlet valve to the heat exchanger was closed but both the bypass valve and the outlet valve were open allowing hydrocarbons to pass into the preheater. This permitted water vapor in the gas stream to condense and collect on the lowest part of the preheater - the inlet header. During an abnormally cold December in 1983, this water froze, bursting the pipe. When it thawed on December 26, a cloud of hydrocarbons escaped or ignited, allegedly by the exhaust pipe of a Mack diesel truck stopped and idling nearby. The flames severely injured Plaintiff, Hall, a Hess employee.

 The record reflects the following scenario immediately prior to the fire. At around 4:00 p.m. on December 26, James Strebeck, a driver for Mississippi Chemical Express (MCX), pulled into the Hess Refinery after a five minute run from the MCX Terminal in Purvis, Mississippi. There was another truck in front of him waiting to unload but unloading was postponed due to a frozen pipe. The driver of the first truck decided to leave and traded trucks with Strebeck, taking Strebeck's truck to MCX. Several Hess employees, including James Hall, worked to thaw the pipeline with steam.

 Around 6:00 p.m., Strebeck was able to begin unloading and another MCX truck - the culprit Mack diesel truck- drove up to the acid rack; this truck was driven by Graham Davis. Davis stopped and let the engine idle. Strebeck went to talk to Davis and as he started to get up on the truck, Strebeck saw a blue flame around the smoke stack of Davis' truck. Just before this, Hall and several other Hess employees, someone named Cook, Terry Smith and James Morrow,

 were alerted by a hissing noise. Hall smelled hydrocarbons and noticed that it was foggy. As Cook reached up to cut off a valve leading to the leaking pipe, the workers were engulfed in flames.

 B.

 On April 8, 1985, Hall commenced this civil action by filing his complaint in the Circuit Court of Lamar County. Hall named as defendants Amerada Hess; Marsh and McClennan, primary inspection contractors, Mack Trucks, Inc.; Mississippi Chemical Express, Inc.; Fluor Corporation, the builder of the refinery; and UOP, a refinery inspection firm. Eventually a settlement was reached with Amerada Hess and Marsh and McClennan. Summary judgment for Fluor Corporation was affirmed by this Court in Smith v. Fluor Corporation, 514 So.2d 1227 (Miss.1987). UOP received a favorable verdict from the jury and no appeal was taken.

 All that remains is the present suit against Mack Trucks and MCX. Hall complained that MCX had failed to properly train its drivers as well as warn them of the possibility of the truck's engine igniting escaped hydrocarbons. He sued Mack Trucks for having manufactured the truck which ignited the explosion. Hall maintained the truck was deficient in design and manufacture, that Mack Trucks failed to warn of the danger of igniting hydrocarbons, and for failure to equip the ...


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