Contractor barred from suing Valero for chemical burn injuries


A contractor injured when chemicals spilled on him at a Louisiana Valero Energy Corp. oil refinery in May 2018 can’t sue the company or one of its employees, a New Orleans federal judge has ruled.

Judge Jane Triche Milazzo found Larry O’Steen, an employee of contractor Zachry Industrial Inc., was a statutory employee of Valero and therefore can’t sue that company for damages. The judge also ruled he wasn’t an employee of the oil company under state whistleblower protection law.

O’Steen sued Valero Refining-Meraux, alleging he was rinsing and draining an old vessel or dome that was part of a crude unit in the refinery when he was injured. According to the lawsuit, Valero provided the Zachry team with a safety permit, indicating hazards of the work and personal protective equipment needed.

After closing a water valve via a flange at the bottom of the tank, an unidentified solution sprayed onto O’Steen’s protective equipment, melting it and directly contacting his skin. He allegedly sustained burns, scarring and infection. He also claimed that a nurse employed by Valero failed to properly treat his injury and advised him not to seek outside treatment.

Late last week, Milazzo ruled that O’Steen’s claims are barred by the Louisiana Worker’s Compensation Act, which provides employers immunity from tort liability for injuries their employees suffer during employment. Though Zachry provided contract work to Valero, a written contract between the two companies recognizes Valero as the statutory employer of Zachry’s employees.

The judge also dismissed O’Steen’s retaliation claim against Valero under the Louisiana Environmental Whistleblower Act, finding that he was not a Valero employee. He alleges that weeks after the incident, he reported potential environmental regulation violations by Valero to OSHA and his security clearance to the refinery was later revoked—effectively terminating his employment.