Interactive Exhibit to Motion for Summary Judgment

2/16/2009 by Susan M. Pennebaker

Pennebaker Fifth Ring assisted defense attorneys on a recent case involving a large E&C firm which had been hired to document and confirm the existence of certain safety equipment within a large refinery. The plaintiffs were several refinery employees who had been injured by a tank explosion on site. Separate in-house and OSHA investigations concluded that the rupture resulted from the oil & gas firm’s admittedly improper storage of butadiene, a volatile material. Furthermore, results showed the only means for venting pressure from the vessel had been purposefully disabled by an employee.

The Case: The group of employees alleged that the E&C firm had been negligent in failing to advise the oil & gas firm that a safety valve installed on the damaged tank was too small. The defense held that this could not have been a proximate cause of the injuries because the safety valve was out of service at the time of the incident. Moreover, even if the E&C firm had been negligent, its liability would be cut off as a matter of law by the oil & gas firm’s subsequent negligence.

Pennebaker Fifth Ring worked with attorneys and experts to develop an interactive CD to accompany the MSJ. The CD included critical animations with narration of the chemical process, the bypassing of the safety valve, and the steps leading to the explosion. It also included an interactive timeline and scans of key documents.

The MSJ was granted, in part, and elements of the CD were presented at trial. The outcome was successful for the E&C firm despite the presence of the injured plaintiffs in the courtroom throughout the trial. The jury found that the disabled safety valve was the cause of the explosion, and that the E&C firm played no role.

Client Response: “By showing the Court the events, rather than describing them, we were able to shorten our brief considerably with confidence that the Court would understand the facts that were important to us. We believe the interactive exhibit made it easier, and more enjoyable, for the Court to wade through the hundreds of pages of briefing submitted by both sides."

"Just as important, it made it far less likely that the judge would make a decision without a firm grasp of the facts. The interactive portion of the brief certainly simplified the Court's job, which is an important goal with any court paper."
Lead Defense Counsel

"Pennebaker's creative assistance in developing an animated timeline was key to our new and independent cause argument. They were able to demonstrate the normal operation of a pressure relief valve, and to show how its intended function was interrupted by an employee's intervening act. The presentation was easy to follow and powerful. It helped us win a jury verdict against one set of plaintiffs and a summary judgment against another. Pennebaker's work was brilliant!"
Bruce Hurley, Partner
King & Spalding