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BP Exploration & Oil Co. v. Maintenance Servs., Inc.

ELR Citation: 33 ELR 20127
Nos. Nos. 01-3137 et al., 313 F.3d 936/(6th Cir., 12/18/2002)

The court affirms a district court judgment finding an Ohio oil tank maintenance company liable for the damages from a fuel leak that occurred after it negligently cut holes in an oil company's storage tank, but the oil company's failure to test the tank prior to filling rendered it contributorily negligent. The district court held that the maintenance company was 60% liable and that the oil company was 40% liable. The oil company appealed, arguing that it was not liable because its failure to test the tank did not occur until after the maintenance company's negligent acts were complete, the only injury caused by the maintenance company was the hole in the tank, and the leak represented damages flowing from that injury. Thus, the oil company argued that there is a bright line between contributory negligence and mitigation of damages based on the timing of the parties' unreasonable acts. The court first holds, however, that no precedent supports such a conclusion, and Ohio laws indicate that the basic principles of causation and injury govern the decision. Therefore, the district court's instruction properly stated that the oil company is contributorily negligent if its unreasonable acts combined and concurred with the maintenance company's negligence and contributed to the injury as a proximate cause and as an element without which the injury would not have occurred. The oil company did not seek to recover damages from the maintenance company for negligently damaging its tank. It sued for negligently causing the leak that resulted in the damages from the outflow of the fuel. The maintenance company alone caused the hole in the fuel tank, but the fuel leak and other injuries associated with it were the products of mixed causes, one of which was the oil company's failure to test the tank before use. Thus, based on the evidence, a jury could have found that the oil company contributed to the relevant injury—the fuel leak—by failing to test the tank, and the jury's apportionment of liability was proper. The court next holds that the district court did not err in refusing to reduce the judgment against the maintenance company by the amount of the settlement reached between the oil company and the maintenance company's insurer. The oil company had filed a separate claim against the insurer and the insurer did not share liability with the maintenance company. The court finally holds that the accrual of post-judgment interest on the amount owed by the maintenance company to the oil company stopped when the maintenance company attempted to make payment but was refused by the oil company.

Counsel for Plaintiff
Michael K. Yarbrough
Frost, Brown & Todd
10 W. Broad St., Columbus OH 43215
(614) 464-1211

Counsel for Defendant
Joseph T. Dattilo
Brouse McDowell
1001 Lakeside Ave., Ste. 1600, Cleveland OH 44114
(216) 830-6830