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Cales v. Halliburton Energy Services, Inc.

United States District Court, Tenth Circuit

May 28, 2013

KEVIN B. CALES and ANN CALES, Plaintiffs,
v.
HALLIBURTON ENERGY SERVICES, INC., JOHN DOES 1-10, and JANE DOES 1-10, Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER DENYING HALLIBURTON'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

ALAN B. JOHNSON, District Judge.

After a handrail on a piece of Halliburton Energy Services's equipment collapsed on and pinned Dennis Sabe, Kevin Cales managed to lift it off but tore some cartilage in his ribs and slipped a disc in his back in the process. Seeking to recover for those injuries, Kevin and Ann Cales brought negligence and loss-of-consortium claims against Halliburton, contending Halliburton's negligence placed Mr. Sabe in danger and that Mr. Cales can recover under the rescue doctrine. Halliburton has now filed a motion for summary judgment. Because a genuine dispute of material fact exists as to whether Mr. Cales reasonably believed Mr. Sabe was in immediate danger for purposes of the rescue doctrine, the Court DENIES Halliburton's motion.

FACTS

One evening in February 2008, Kevin Cales got a call from his boss, Edgar Bobo, asking for help delivering a bunch of hose to a Halliburton worksite near Wamsutter, Wyoming. Mr. Cales agreed to lend a hand, helped load up the hose, and the two drove off to the worksite.

They met Dennis Sabe when they got there. Mr. Sabe was delivering a load of sand, which Halliburton uses in its oil and gas operations. Mr. Sabe's job was to transfer the sand from his truck-trailer rig to a Halliburton mountain mover, a very large piece of equipment that stores the sand Halliburton uses. The mountain mover is about six feet tall with a ladder on one end that allows workers to climb on top to check how much sand is in there. It also has protective handrails running the length of it on both sides. The handrails are secured in place by metal pins.

On this particular evening, Mr. Sabe had not brought enough hose to connect his truck to the mountain mover. That's where Mr. Bobo and Mr. Cales came in. After hooking up the hoses, Mr. Sabe started transferring the sand to the mountain mover. After several hours, sometime around 2:00 a.m. and with the temperature around zero degrees, Mr. Sabe climbed up the mountain mover and checked if it was full. As he was walking back to the ladder to climb down, Mr. Sabe suddenly slipped and grabbed the handrail to steady himself. But the handrail wasn't properly secured with the pins so it collapsed on top of him and pinned him in place. Unable to free himself, he started yelling for help.

Meanwhile, Mr. Cales had seen Mr. Sabe fall and disappear out of sight so he ran over to see what had happened. When he got there, he saw Mr. Sabe hanging off the edge of the mountain mover screaming for help. Believing Mr. Sabe was in pain, Mr. Cales climbed partway up the ladder and tried (unsuccessfully) to push the handrail off Mr. Sabe. While pushing, Mr. Cales felt something pop in his ribs and back. Undeterred, he climbed up and over Mr. Sabe and lifted the handrail just enough so Mr. Sabe could wiggle out from underneath it. While lifting, Mr. Cales again experienced pain in his ribs and back. As it turns out, in the course of things Mr. Cales had torn some cartilage in his ribs and slipped a disc in his back.

Seeking to recover for those injuries, Mr. and Mrs. Cales sued Halliburton for negligence and loss of consortium. Mr. Cales believes Halliburton's negligence in failing to properly secure the handrail placed Mr. Sabe in danger. And because Mr. Cales was injured while rescuing Mr. Sabe, Mr. Cales believes he can recover from Halliburton under the rescue doctrine.

Halliburton doesn't think so and has filed a summary judgment motion to that effect. It argues that the rescue doctrine requires a showing that the rescued person was actually in immediate danger. Here, according to Halliburton, that necessary element of Mr. Cales's claim is missing because Mr. Sabe was never actually in immediate danger.

Mr. Cales quarrels with Halliburton's major premise. He argues that a plaintiff can recover under the rescue doctrine, even if the rescued person was not actually in danger, so long as the plaintiff reasonably believed the rescued person was in danger. Here, according to Mr. Cales, a genuine dispute of material fact exists as to whether Mr. Cales harbored such a belief. And that dispute, says Mr. Cales, must be resolved by a jury, precluding summary judgment.

The Court first will discuss the standard of review. Next, it will discuss the rescue doctrine and whether a genuine dispute of material fact exists in this case precluding summary judgment. A brief conclusion follows.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate where "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A dispute of fact is genuine if a reasonable juror could resolve the dispute in favor of either side. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute of fact is material if under the substantive law it is essential to the proper disposition of the claim. Adler v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 670 (10th Cir. 1998). When the Court considers the evidence presented by the parties, "[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in the non-movant's favor." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.

The party moving for summary judgment has the burden of establishing the nonexistence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Lynch v. Barrett, 703 F.3d 1153, 1158 (10th Cir. 2013). The moving party may satisfy this burden by either (1) offering affirmative evidence that negates an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim, or (2) demonstrating that the nonmoving party's evidence is ...


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