Judge Barbier, who is in charge of the BP oil spill litigation, will hear the first phase of this litigation on February 27th. This may be the fastest incident of this magnitude to come to trial that I have ever seen. The first phase of the trial is expected to last a couple of months with a brief intermission between the first phase and the second phase.
As we have reported, the first phase will cover “blowout liability,” in which Judge Barbier will hear evidence that speaks directly to the events leading up to the catastrophic event that took 11 lives and devastated the Gulf of Mexico region. After hearing the evidence, Judge Barbier will not only determine who all is responsible for causing the explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon, but he will also apportion fault between all of the wrongdoers.
We will also learn from the first phase of the trial whether Transocean will be entitled to limit its liability solely to the value of the Deepwater Horizon vessel (roughly $27 million), or whether the court will find that Transocean ignored the problems aboard the rig that caused the explosion – rendering it fully liable for all damages assessed against the company. I believe Transocean will lose on this issue.
There will be quite a few witnesses who will testify during the trial. Many of those witnesses will be experts on various issues, including the blowout itself, the blowout preventer, cementing, safety, oversight, and industry practice and procedure, among others. Numerous individual depositions were taken, including depositions of representatives of all of the main players aboard the rig. These witnesses, coupled with the huge number of documents produced in this case, will tell the full story about what led up to the Deepwater Horizon’s demise.
As I write this update, BP and others are trying to do what so many other large companies do when they are caught red-handed – hide the information that tells the true story from the public under the guise that those documents and information are “trade secrets” or “confidential” communications. But one way or another, the American public is going to hear the true story. Based on what we have learned, that story is not going to be good for BP, Halliburton, Transocean and others.
The Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee (PSC) has done a tremendous job keeping the case on track in order for it to come to trial this quickly, while at the same time not taking any short cuts or sacrificing on discovery efforts. Not only has the PSC expended a considerable amount of time and money in pushing the litigation forward, the lawyers on the committee have reviewed over 43 million pages of documents, taken almost 300 depositions – some of those in London, England at BP’s corporate office – and entered into the record over 6,000 deposition exhibits. In addition, the PSC has worked to help all Gulf Coast residents receive fairer treatment by holding Ken Feinberg to task in administrating the GCCF.
The PSC has also fought back numerous important motions to dismiss by the Defendants, which if qualified, could have been devastating to the claims. The victories are almost too many to count and include issues dealing with the following: traditional maritime law claims, punitive damages, a fair causation burden on Oil Pollution Act claims, medical monitoring, and many others. And when the Defendants appealed those rulings, the PSC won each time. All the while, economic damage and environmental committees worked hard to assess the tremendous damages that the oil spill created. Rhon Jones from our firm, a member of the PSC, has been a leader in that effort.
We look forward to the upcoming trial and are convinced it is the first major step towards justice for all those that have been injured by the oil spill. BP is being forced to turn over to the PSC internal documents, including emails, that are extremely damaging to the company. BP never thought this information would ever be made public. If you have any questions about the oil spill case or the upcoming trial, please feel free to contact Rhon Jones or Sandra Walters in our firm’s Toxic Torts Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Rhon.Jones@beasleyallen or Sandra.Walters@beasleyallen, respectively. Sandra is the Section Head Administrator and Rhon, as you know, is the Section Head.
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