Pipeline Inspector Prevails on Summary Judgment in Action Seeking Damages for Pipeline Rupture.

One set of defendants owned and maintained  an oil pipeline that carried heavy crude oil from Canada to Indiana. Another defendant was hired by the owners to inspect the pipeline. The inspector reported that there were indications of "crack-like" features that were 12.5% to 25% of the wall thickness depth. Several years later, the inspector discovered that its inspection tool had been underestimating the actual depth of crack fields. It revised its tool to eliminate this problem, but did not reanalyze the data for the pipeline at issue. Five years after the inspection, the pipeline ruptured and began to leak. The leak was not addressed for 17 hours. The accident resulted in the release of over 20,000 barrels of diluted bitumen, or heavy crude oil. The oil flowed into a creek, which ran across the northeast side of property owned by the plaintiff. On motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff alleged that the inspector was negligent in performing the 2005 inspection of the pipeline and that the pipeline owners would have repaired the crack that later caused the rupture if they had been supplied with accurate data at that time. In granting summary judgment for the inspector, the court found that the plaintiff did not show that the inspector owed the plaintiff a duty of care. The inspector had a very limited connection to the plaintiff and the inspector did not undertake the pipeline owners’ duty to maintain the pipeline. There was also no evidence that the pipeline owners chose to forego maintenance activities based on the inspection. The court also found that there was no evidence that the inspector’s actions caused the rupture of the pipeline. Thus, the plaintiff did not show that the inspector’s actions were a but-for cause of its injuries. Fredonia Farms v. Enbridge Energy,  No. 1:12-CV-1005, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 140623 (W.D. Mich. Oct. 3, 2014).

 

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