As this issue was on the way to the printer, one of the most significant trials in United States history had just started in New Orleans. Opening statements in the first phase of the Limitation of Liability trial have been given by the opposing sides. The court will determine the parties responsible for the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion that killed 11 people and inundated the Gulf of Mexico with millions of gallons of oil. As the trial date got nearer, it became evident to our lawyers who were involved that a settlement was unlikely. While it would have been good to have a settlement, there is a definite silver lining to the prospects of a trial. The landmark economic and medical settlements reached between the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee and BP last year were good for victims of the spill. That was a tremendous accomplishment.
The refusal by the Defendants to settle this part of the litigation should only benefit the Gulf Coast states and the federal government. Billions of dollars are at stake in this trial. The court will determine whether the parties were grossly negligent in causing the disaster, thereby setting the stage for punitive damages against the Defendants. The court is set to apportion fault between the parties involved in the disaster, and also will determine whether Transocean is entitled to limit its liability to the value of its interest in the Deepwater Horizon, or about $27 million. Importantly, proof that suggests Transocean was grossly negligent would destroy Transocean’s ability to limit its liability, and could make the company responsible for billions in damages.
Judge Carl Barbier wisely set the trial up to be held in separate phases. As reported previously, he divided the Limitation trial into three distinct phases. Those are:
• Blowout Liability
• Source Control
In the Blowout Liability phase, the court will determine culpability for the initial explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig. The Source Control phase will then evaluate efforts to seal the well, and collaterally, the total volume of oil that spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. The federal government is particularly concerned with Source Control. That’s because the total volume of oil spilled significantly impacts the fines and penalties that can be assessed against the responsible parties. Finally, the Containment phase evaluates response and recovery activities after the spill, and addresses liability issues created by those activities, including the application of chemical dispersant.
The Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee has done a tremendous job balancing one of the most significant settlements in U.S. history while preparing for one of the most significant trials ever in this country. The PSC and governmental entities have worked hard and are ready for trial. We fully expect a positive outcome. This is one thing for sure: America (and perhaps even the court) will be shocked when the complete story behind the Defendants’ actions leading up to the disaster are revealed.
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange has had a key role in the prosecution of this case. Rhon Jones, who serves on the PSC, says he has done a very good job. I am going to set out his opening statement in the case for your edification:
May it please the Court:
I am Luther Strange, the Attorney General of the state of Alabama and Liaison Counsel for the Gulf States in this historic litigation. It is my privilege to stand before you today to represent Alabama and its nearly 5 million citizens. In due course, I will have the opportunity to detail the lingering economic and environmental devastation the Defendants inflicted on Alabama. And I will have a great deal to say about our damages, for they are indeed great. But today, I will be brief.
In this Phase One, we address just one issue: Who is at fault for the explosion and spill that caused such unprecedented and catastrophic damages to the Gulf Coast? On this issue, Alabama’s interests align perfectly with the interests of the United States and the private plaintiffs. Alabama therefore supports and affirms the description of the facts and law so well outlined by Mr. Roy and Mr. Underhill, and I will not duplicate their efforts.
Instead, I offer two points that summarize our collective case against BP:
One: The Spill was both predictable and preventable.
Two: BP’s culture of corporate callousness towards the Gulf caused the Spill.
On the first point, the evidence will show that BP knew that the risk of a deepwater blowout in the Gulf was great; in fact, it was 9 times greater than in the North Sea.
BP also knew–and certainly should have known–before the blow-out that:
• The centralizers would not centralize
• The cement would not cement
• The controllers would not control, and
• The blowout-preventer would not prevent
We will show that BP knew all of this; but BP was blinded by their bottom line, which leads me to my second point: The Spill was tragically inevitable due to BP’s corporate culture.
The evidence will show that, at BP, money mattered most.
• Money mattered more than the environment.
• Money mattered more than the thousands of jobs and businesses they destroyed along the Gulf Coast.
• Money even mattered more than the lives of the 11 workers who died on the Horizon rig.
Money mattered more to BP than the Gulf. A lot more.
Your honor, the evidence will be clear and unmistakable: Greed devastated the Gulf.
Finally your Honor, I agree with Mr. Roy that, in the coming weeks, we will prove that BP acted with gross negligence and willful misconduct – and that we will prove the same level of fault against two of BP’s partners, Transocean and Halliburton. For that reason, we will ask the Court at the end of this trial to rule that all three – BP, Transocean, and Halliburton – are liable for punitive damages to the State of Alabama.
Again, it is a privilege to stand here before you as this historic case gets underway. Thank you.
If you have any questions about any aspect of the trial phase, contact Parker Miller, a lawyer in our firm who has been working virtually full time on this litigation, at 800.898.2034 or Parker.Miller@beasleyallen.com.
Contact us today for a free legal consultation with an experienced attorney.
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