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Rardon v. Holland, LP

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 26, 2017

LYLE G. RARDON, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
HOLLAND, LP, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          THOMAS F. HOGAN, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This action is brought by Lyle G. Rardon and his wife, Carolyn, against Holland, LP (“Holland”), Justin L. McFerrin, William T. Davis, and Plasser American Corp. (“Plasser”).[1]The suit arises out of an October 6, 2013 accident in a Metro tunnel between the Union Station and Judiciary Square platforms while Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (“WMATA”) employees and Holland contractors performed rail maintenance. Rardon was one such WMATA employee and was injured following an explosion in the tunnel. Extensive discovery has been conducted, and Plasser has now moved for summary judgment.

         UNDISPUTED FACTS

         The Project

         In the spring of 2013, WMATA began a project to repair and replace portions of the Washington D.C. Metro-rail system. To complete the project, WMATA used three major pieces of equipment: 1) a Prime Mover; 2) a Flash-Butt welding system; and 3) a Pettibone Speed Swing.[2] WMATA contracted with and provided detailed specifications to Plasser, a machine-building company, to construct the Prime Mover on its behalf. Those specifications included, inter alia, a requirement for Plasser to incorporate a hydraulic system onto the machine. The purpose of the hydraulic system was to power various WMATA tools. The specifications detailed that Plasser was to include “a failsafe safety circuit to shut off hydraulic tank flow in the event of catastrophic failure, i.e. hose rupture . ” Plasser Material Facts Not in Dispute ¶ 8. The specifications also explicitly instructed Plasser to use “Twin Parker Parflex 518C-8 nonconductive SAE 1000R7 ½[inch]” hose for the hydraulic system. Id. ¶ 7. WMATA's specifications did not include instructions to place warning labels on the machine.

         Plasser constructed the Prime Mover according to WMATA's specifications with only one change. During the building process, Plasser asked WMATA whether it wanted the hydraulic hose reels, specified to be constructed on the front of the Prime Mover, to be relocated to the back. Email Chain [ECF No. 45-1]. The inquiry stemmed from Plasser's understanding that the welding would occur from the back of the machine, and thus all ancillary functions, powered by the hydraulic system, would likely occur behind the machine as well. Id. WMATA agreed with the suggestion and Plasser moved the reels to the right-rear of the machine. Id.

         WMATA separately contracted with Holland to provide the Fla s h-Butt welding head to mount onto a boom attached to the left-rear of the Prime Mover. Contract [ECF No. 37-14]. Under the contract, Holland employees would perform the welding services, including removing the hot sheered upset from the rail. Id. WMATA employees would then take over, completing the process by “profile” grinding or “finish” grinding the weld so that the rail would be seamless and smooth. Id. The industrial grinder was to be hydraulically powered using the line attached to the right-rear of the Prime Mover.

         The Night of the Accident

         On October 6, 2013, Holland's work crew included defendant Justin McFerrin (supervisor), and defendant William Davis (senior welder). WMATA's work crew included, among others, the plaintiff, Lyle Rardon and profile grinder Jamaal Haggie. The night's task was to remove and replace sections of rail in the underground segment of the Red Line between the Union Station and Judiciary Square stops.

         McFerrin began operation of the welding head. After the completion of each weld, Davis removed the hot sheered upset material from the rail and placed it across the third rail, between the third rail and the tunnel wall, to cool. Davis Dep. 22:1-23:8 (Aug. 12, 2016) [ECF No. 37-18]. Haggie would then wait a few minutes until the weld cooled sufficiently for him to grind using the hydraulically powered grinder.

         The grinder was attached to the Prime Mover via the hydraulic line located on the rear of the machine. Haggie ran the line from the right-rear of the Prime Mover down the tunnel in between the third rail and the tunnel wall so that the line could not contact the hot weld. The Holland crew waited while Haggie completed his job five separate times. Davis Dep. 20:25-21:6; Rardon Aff. ¶¶ 37, 43 [ECF No. 43-7].

         After six successive welds and five grinds, hot sheer upset punctured Haggie's hydraulic line. The puncture in the line caused the hydraulic fluid to aerosolize. The mist then caught fire, creating a fireball and panic in the tunnel. As tunnel workers reacted to the blaze, a rail that was suspended by the Pettibone Speed Swing crane some distance down the tunnel fell, injuring three people including Rardon.

         DISCUSSION

         Rardon asserts claims against Plasser for negligence, and strict liability for design defect and failure to warn. Underlying all of his claims is the assertion that the Prime Mover is defective in that it should have been designed and manufactured in a way that it would have: 1) protected the hydraulic hose from heat and abrasion; 2) failed to a safe condition if the hydraulic hose was punctured; and 3) ...


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