Recently, Judge Carl Barbier set a new Limitation trial in New Orleans for January 14, 2013. As we reported previously, the original trial date for the Limitation trial had to be continued because of the global settlement resolution reached between the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee (PSC) and BP. That settlement was a monumental accomplishment by the PSC and came about in record time.
The new trial will progress in an identical three-phase manner as the previously-set trial last Spring. BP will remain a focal point in the case along with Transocean, Halliburton, Cameron and others. The phases will remain the same – in Phase I, the trial will focus on “blowout liability,” where the parties will put on evidence to establish which Defendants were responsible for the initial explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon. Phase II will concentrate on quantifying the volume of the oil spilled and efforts to cap the well (also known as source control). Phase III will focus on post-spill cleanup, including the application of dispersant, boom and skimming operations.
The private economic, seafood, property and medical claims were resolved with some exceptions. Significant federal, state and local government claims remain against all Defendants – including BP. The federal government is seeking billions in fines and penalties resulting from the spill, as well as criminal prosecutions against certain officers and employees of the Defendants. This amount will exceed $20 billion according to most estimates.
Putting aside the obvious proof of Defendant culpability that will help in establishing compensatory and punitive damages for government claims, a major determining factor in federal fines and penalties will be Phase II trial testimony on the Macondo well’s spill rate during the disaster. BP and the other Defendants will most assuredly fight to keep the spill rate as low as possible at trial, as fines and penalties are tied to the amount of oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico.
The States of Alabama and Louisiana continue to work with the federal government and the PSC to hold the Defendants accountable at trial. At press time neither Mississippi nor Florida had filed in the MDL. Hopefully they will very soon. Attorney General Luther Strange and his staff have done a good job in representing the State at the MDL level. Alabama is well-positioned to make a strong case against BP and others. Not to be forgotten, numerous local government claims remain in the MDL, and will benefit from the Limitation trial. Our firm currently represents numerous county governments and municipalities along the Gulf Coast, and those claims are progressing well.
Meanwhile, the Gulf States, in conjunction with the federal government, continue to work through the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) phase. The NRDA process will assess the damage to the Gulf environment as a result of the oil spill, and will establish a protocol for the responsible parties to repair the environmental damages.
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