Kevin Andrus v. Vestas-American Wind Technology, Inc. and SEA.O.G., LLC (No. 09-21-00177-CV; May 2, 2024) arose from an accident at the Port of Beaumont. Vestas, a manufacturer and importer of wind turbine components, contracted with SEA and P.C. Pfeiffer Company, to provide stevedore services as independent contractors. The contracts required SEA and Pfeiffer to take “reasonable precautions for safety of, and shall provide reasonable protection to prevent damage, injury, or loss to persons or property.” Plaintiff, an employee of Pfeiffer, alleged that he was injured when he fell from a man basket while unhooking the crane from the far side of the blade frame as the turbine blade was resting on a truck. He sued Vestas and SEA, alleging negligence and gross negligence. Defendants moved for no-evidence and traditional summary judgment, which the trial court granted. Plaintiff appealed.

In an opinion by Justice Wright, the court of appeals affirmed. Plaintiff alleged that Vestas and SEA retained the right to control the details of the work of Pfeiffer and its employees and thus had a duty to exercise reasonable care. As to Vestas, Plaintiff argued that it directly controlled his work through its contractual relationship with SEA which required Pfeiffer to conform to applicable safety requirements and all laws, rules, and regulations. The contract further directed SEA to stop work in the event of a safety violation. The court rejected these arguments because requiring an independent contractor to comply with applicable laws and safety rules does not constitute “direct control” of the contractor’s work. Additionally, the contractual “stand-down” provision in the event of a safety violation likewise does not rise to the level of controlling the method or details of the work. Plaintiff thus failed to show that Vestas owed a duty to ensure his safety, which was his employer’s job. Plaintiff also complained that Pfeiffer routinely violated safety rules and that Vestas knew about it, although he didn’t present any evidence that Vestas knew anything or that it had “a specific safety policy that applied to the work that would have prevented P.C. Pfeiffer from using a man basket when performing the work.” There were also no Vestas employees present at the port to direct anything, much less control of Plaintiff’s work. The court concluded that Vestas owed no duty and affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment.

As to SEA, Vestas contract required it to “oversee” third-party contractors to assure that they meet industry safety standards and comply with Vestas’ health, safety, and environmental polkicies. In the event of a breach, SEA was required to stop work and conduct a “safety stand down meeting.” Plaintiff contended that this provision gave SEA direct control over Pfeiffer’s work and that SEA exercised that control. The court, however, didn’t see it that way. Again, Plaintiff presented no evidence that anyone from SEA was present at the site directing Plaintiff’s work. SEA’s contract with Vestas, moreover, created no duty to “third parties who are strangers to the contract, including independent contractors.” In order to be a third-party beneficiary, as Plaintiff claimed, the Vestas-SEA contract must have “entered into the agreement with the clear and express intention of directly benefitting the third party[].” Nothing in the contract, however, expressed such an intention. All the contract did was “authoriz[e] SEA to stop Pfeiffer’s work,” not limit Pfeiffer’s freedom “to do its work in its own way.” Finally, as to SEA’s obligation to visually inpect equipment and rigging to be used in moving the turbine blades, Plaintiff testified that he didn’t notice anything wrong with the man basket, so the court was unwilling to infer that SEA would have seen something different if it had itself looked at the basket. Plaintiff’s last gasp was to allege that Vestas and SEA are liable because they “occupied the property where he was performing his work.” Here there was no evidence that Vestas or SEA knew of a dangerous condition or defect in the man basket or that Plaintiff created a dangerous condition himself. The equipment was Pfeiffer’s, and that was where the duty lay.

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