In a major turn of events, Judge Carl Barbier ruled recently that Plaintiffs in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill litigation will be allowed to seek punitive damages and maritime law remedies against BP and other companies responsible for the catastrophic explosion and oil spill that occurred in April 2010. Previously, BP had filed a motion in court seeking to dismiss thousands of economic damage claims pending in the Louisiana Court.
To determine whether certain claims should remain in the litigation, Judge Barbier had to wade through the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, federal maritime law, as well as state laws. Lawyers defending BP and other Defendants argued that oil spill victims could not seek punitive damages because the federal Oil Pollution Act was silent, and because the Oil Pollution Act displaces federal maritime law, which provides for punitive damages.
Judge Barbier disagreed with the Defendants and ruled that fishermen and those with direct physical property damage from the oil spill can pursue punitive damages against the Defendants, as traditional Plaintiffs have been able to do for years under maritime law. Moreover, Judge Barbier determined that the case properly falls within maritime law and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. Maritime law allows for claims of negligence, gross negligence and strict liability for manufacturing or design defects.
The Defendants also argued in their briefs that claims should be limited to only those that meet a strict “proximate cause” requirement. Again, Judge Barbier ruled for the Plaintiffs, stating that
[t]he Court notes that OPA does not expressly require ‘proximate cause,’ but rather only that the loss is ‘due to’ or ‘resulting from’ the oil spill. OPA causation may lie somewhere between traditional ‘proximate cause’ and simple ‘but for’ causation.
The Court did rule, however, that state law claims were preempted by maritime law. But because the Oil Pollution Act greatly expands the eligibility of Claimants to pursue economic damages resulting from an oil spill, it’s unlikely that the Plaintiffs will be adversely impacted by the ruling. I believe the Court’s ruling puts substantial pressure on BP and others responsible for the Deepwater Horizon’s demise and subsequent oil spill. Currently, there are well over 100,000 individual and business claims in the litigation. In addition, federal, state and local government claims remain active in the litigation. On behalf of our clients, we were extremely well satisfied with the Court’s order. If you would like more information on the order, contact Rhon Jones or Parker Miller at 800-898-2034 or by email at Rhon.Jones@beasleyallen.com or Parker.Miller@beasleyallen.com. If these lawyers are unavailable, you can contact Sandra Walters at 800-898-2034 and she will put you in touch with a lawyer who will be familiar with the BP litigation.
Source: The Times-Picayune
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