Was an Engineering Design Flaw Patently Obvious?

Jury Trial, North America

A dispute between a refinery operator and an Engineering, Procurement, and Construction (EPC) contractor ensued when an overpressure relief system failed eight years into operation. Baker & O'Brien assessed whether the cause was pressure relief valve inlet piping design or if deficiencies in operating procedures and maintenance practices were to blame. We reported on the cause and also provided court room testimony regarding the EPC contract indemnification clauses.

A refinery operator engaged an Engineering, Procurement, and Construction (EPC) contractor for a project to design and construct piping and equipment associated with product storage and pipeline systems. The project included a relief system that transferred liquid products to a "slop oil" storage tank in the event there was any overpressure in the system. Approximately eight years after installation, the relief system experienced a weld failure on the inlet piping of a pressure relief valve (PRV) which resulted in a hydrocarbon release that led to personal injury claims. The refinery filed a claim against the EPC contractor for: (1) design flaws in the pressure relief system that led to the incident; and (2) failure to indemnify the refinery against the personal injury claims. Baker & O'Brien was retained to evaluate these claims.

Our assessment included evaluating roles and responsibilities of the EPC contractor and the refinery operator to determine if their actions contributed to or caused the incident to occur. The EPC contractor evaluation included reviewing standards of care for the design and construction of pressure relief systems including: PRV set points, piping and support design, materials of construction, and system operating conditions. Refinery operator evaluations included assessing maintenance practices, operating procedures, and determining if any pressure relief system design flaws were "patently obvious" and, therefore, potentially the responsibility of the operating company to have identified these flaws during the eight years the system had been in service.

Baker & O'Brien also reviewed the EPC contract to determine if the indemnification clause was consistent with industry practice. We developed and submitted an expert declaration and provided court room testimony.

Kevin P. Milburn

Senior Consultant, PRISM Services Manager

Petroleum Refining
Standard of Care / Accident / Incident Investigation / Engineering, Procurement, and Construction (EPC) / Commercial Contracts / Litigation / Operations and Maintenance / OSHA-related / Safety / Expert Witness Testimony
North America