Judge Barbier, in a most important order, ruled that BP Plc must face claims in lawsuits filed by the states of Alabama and Louisiana. The states can sue for negligence and products liability under general maritime law and will be allowed to recover punitive damages. The judge dismissed claims brought under state environmental laws, including demands for civil penalties, finding they were preempted by federal law governing the Outer Continental Shelf. Judge Barbier stated in his order:
Because the source of this discharge occurred within an exclusive federal jurisdiction, the OCS, the only available law is federal law. The state-law claims are dismissed.
We should never forget that the Macondo well blowout and the explosion that followed killed 11 workers and set off the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. Sometimes the passage of time results in our forgetting how truly bad a disaster really was. This was one of the worst. The explosion and spill led to hundreds of lawsuits against BP and its partners and contractors and all of the Defendants must be held accountable. As you may recall, Alabama was the first state to file suit and that has turned out to be very important for Alabama citizens. It has put our state in a leadership position in the MDL.
Also sued, in addition to BP, were Transocean Ltd., the Switzerland-based owner and operator of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that exploded; Halliburton Co., which provided cementing services; Cameron International Corp., which provided blowout-prevention equipment; and BP’s minority partners in the well, Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and Mitsui & Co.’s Moex Offshore LLC unit. Most of the Defendants argued that the federal Clean Water Act and Outer Continental Shelf Act trumped all claims under state law and that the Oil Pollution Act (OPA) displaced maritime law claims as well.
Judge Barbier had previously decided in suits brought by private parties that “claims of negligence and products liability under general maritime law were not preempted by OPA, provided that the Plaintiff alleged either physical injury to a proprietary interest or qualified for the commercial fisherman exception.” This finding was correctly applied by the judge to the states’ claims in his most recent order.
Judge Barbier said the states are likely to recover all their removal costs under OPA and that “if OPA’s liability cap does not apply, then the states may recover all OPA damages as well.” It should be noted that BP waived the $75 million damage cap under the Oil Pollution Act. Under OPA, Judge Barbier ruled that the states can recover “damage to natural resources and property, lost revenues and profits, and the cost of providing additional public services.”
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