Can Construction Scheduling Companies Be Liable for Personal Injury?
The Houston Court of Appeals recently held that a scheduling company could be liable for personal injuries that occurred as the result of negligent scheduling. In Critical Path Res., Inc. v. Cuevas et al.*, an explosion occurred during a construction project at a refinery owned and operated by Valero Energy Corporation and Valero Refining Company in Memphis, Tennessee. Three workers suffered severe burns over large portions of their bodies, which resulted in one of their deaths. It was determined that the explosion happened because flammable substances had not been cleared from a flare line when the workers had gone to install a blind there.
Valero had hired an employee of Critical Path to be the master scheduler for the construction project. As the master scheduler, Critical Path was responsible for determining predeccessor tasks and the sequencing of the tasks. Importantly, Critical Path did not review or inquire into Valero's policies regarding the isolation of vessels, purging and cleaning vessels, or vessel entry, even though Critical Path's employee testified that he needed to know Valero's policies and procedures to schedule the work.
In order to install a blind on a flare line it is necessary to (1) isolate the line from the rest of the system; and (2) remove or neutalize all flamable substances in the line. This predecessor work, however, was never scheduled.
Because Critical Path's employee failed to schedule the isolation and decontamination work prior to the work on the south flare line, which was necessary predecessor work, the court found that Critical Path had breached its duty of care to the plaintiffs in preparing and maintaining a master schedule. Similarly, the employee's failure to familiarize himself with Valero's policies or to request plans was a breach of duty.
Critical Path attempted to argue that this breach was too attenuated from the plaintiffs' injuries to be the proximate cause of the accident. The court disagreed, finding that the dangerous situation created by Critical Path's negligence had not abated or come to rest when the plaintiffs were injured. Thus, Critical Path was liable to the plaintiffs for their injuries, which resulted in Critical Path being found liable for millions of dollars in damages.
*Critical Path Res., Inc. v. Cuevas et al., No. 14-16-00036-CV, 2018 WL 1532343 (Tex. App.--Houston [14th Dist.] Mar. 29 2018, no pet. h.).