Independent contractors are widely used in the maritime industry. Contractors can often do things in a turnkey manner, carry their own insurance, use their own equipment and reduce a company’s liability in some instances.
The recent Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals decision McCarroll v. Wood Group Management highlighted another benefit. An independent contractor on a drilling platform does not owe a legal duty to another independent contractor’s employee he or she isn’t supervising.
This injury case arose in July 2009 aboard the BP Atlantis, a drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico. BP hired two independent contractors, Grand Isle Shipyard (GIS) and Baker. (Baker was succeeded by Wood Group.) Baker was unloading containers with a crane when the GIS foreman instructed several GIS employees to assist Baker. The GIS employees guided the containers onto the platform with a tag line, and then disconnected the rigging from the containers. During the cargo unloading operations, one of the GIS employees slipped and fell on the drilling platform deck.
As plaintiff, the GIS employee who fell alleged negligence on the part of the defendant, crane operator Baker, under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA). In hearing the case, the lower district court applied the law of the state of Louisiana. To succeed, the plaintiff’s claim would have to meet Louisiana’s five-part test for negligence. This meant showing the defendant crane operator owed a duty to the plaintiff, an obligation was breached, the breach was the cause-in-fact and cause-in-law of the injury, and that actual damages were shown.
The lower court ruled in favor of the crane operator, finding no evidence to show that Baker was supervising the GIS employee at the time he was injured. In reviewing the case, the appeals court did not find a contractual or employment relationship between the crane operator and the GIS employee. They found no evidence that the GIS employee received instruction, direction, or materials from an employee of the crane operator.