Client not responsible for test injury

Charles Labatut worked as a welder for Pax Cryogenics Systems Inc., a steel-fabrication yard specializing in fabricating process-piping skids for the industrial gas market. In the spring of 1998, Labatut was working on a skid for Air Products, one of Pax'

Charles Labatut worked as a welder for Pax Cryogenics Systems Inc., a steel-fabrication yard specializing in fabricating process-piping skids for the industrial gas market. In the spring of 1998, Labatut was working on a skid for Air Products, one of Pax's biggest clients. The skid was designed by Air Products and built by Pax to Pax's specifications.

On May 12, 1998, representatives of Air Products went to Pax's Louisiana plant to inspect the skid in anticipation of finalizing the purchase. At the request of Air Products inspectors, Pax pressuredup the instrument air header to begin testing the skid. The inspectors discovered a missing drain valve, inadvertently left off the skid. Pax assigned Labatut to weld the drain valve onto the skid. The Air Products representatives then went to lunch. As Labatut was trying to weld the drain valve, he moved the handle on the instrument air header, which was pressurized, to get it out of the way, causing the valve to open and release a large volume of air. This air pressure hit Labatut, knocking him backward several feet and injuring him.

Labatut sued Air Products, charging it with responsibility for his accident. After a trial, the Louisiana jury ruled for Air Products, concluding it was at fault in the accident, but this fault was not a cause of Labatut's injuries. However, the trial judge overturned the jury's verdict, on the ground it was not supported by the evidence, and held Air Products 10% at fault. The judge ordered Air Products to pay Labatut $72,408.

Air Products appealed to the Louisiana Court of Appeal. That court reviewed the evidence offered at trial, noting that a safety consultant testified that Air Products should have tagged or locked the valve once it was pressurized because it was the one doing the testing. However, the court also noted that Pax employees testified that Pax pressurized the instrument air header and owned the skid at the time of the testing. Although representatives of Air Products had been given access to the skid to conduct tests, they had no control over the Pax employees who were working on the skid. Pax's production manager acknowledged he knew that the skid was under pressure, but did nothing to warn others.

Based on the evidence, the appellate court reinstated the jury's verdict for Air Products, stating, "We conclude that the jury was presented with adequate evidence to decide that Air Products was not in control of the skid at the time of Mr. Labatut's accident, and he would have been injured regardless of what Air Products did or did not do."

Labatut v. Air Products Inc., 874 So.2d 219 (La.App. 2003), Court of Appeal of Louisiana, March 12, 2004.

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