Based on the testimony that came out in the First Phase of the Limitation trial, BP and the contractors aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig appear clearly responsible for the April 2010 blowout of the Macondo well and the subsequent Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Importantly, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier will determine whether the actions of the London-based company, including some of the contractors aboard the rig (most notably Transocean and Halliburton), amounted to gross negligence. A gross negligence finding by Judge Barbier could subject BP to billions more in damages.
Previously, Judge Barbier had set a deadline for June 21st, for all of the parties to file proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. This comes two months after the trial on fault heard by Judge Barbier was completed. Lawyers for BP, Halliburton and Transocean have filed their conclusions, asking Judge Barbier to reject findings of gross negligence against them. Alternatively, lawyers for the U.S. government have also filed briefs, seeking a finding of gross negligence against BP. Lawyers for the private party plaintiffs and the states of Louisiana and Alabama stated in filings with the court:
BP’s employees engaged in willful and wanton conduct and such willful and wanton conduct was a substantial contributing cause of the blowout, explosion, fire, and initiation of the discharge of oil.
This conduct by BP employees “was the result of corporate policy and/or was otherwise known to, approved by, and/or ratified by corporate officials with policymaking authority,” they said. Identical claims were filed against Transocean and Halliburton. We believe that each defendant acted with gross negligence and a strong case for punitive damages proved against each of the defendants. While the standards are stringent and exacting standards, we believe they have been met.
U.S. Justice Department lawyers asked Judge Barbier to find that BP acted with gross negligence and willful misconduct. They stated that BP failed to take any action when pre-blast testing showed a heightened risk of a blowout on the well. For example, the facts related to the negative pressure test demonstrate willful misconduct. BP also committed gross negligence through other acts and omissions, including “failures in the process safety management system.”
If Judge Barbier finds that BP acted with gross negligence it will increase the company’s potential damages in the billions of dollars. It will also be a boost for state and local governments who were excluded from the private class settlement. Transocean, owner of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, and Halliburton, which provided cementing services for the project, could also be held liable for punitive damages if those companies are found to have handled their duties in a grossly negligent manner.
Some or all of the contractors may not face compensatory damages, since Judge Barbier ruled last year that the project contract required BP to indemnify them from such costs. Judge Barbier has been asked to consider whether this indemnification, if gross negligence or reckless conduct is found, would be rendered invalid “as a matter of public policy.”
BP was over budget and behind schedule, prompting it to cut corners and ignore safety tests showing the well was unstable. BP was $60 million over budget and 54 days behind schedule on the well by April 9, 2010, 11 days before the blowout. It has been proved that Halliburton’s cement job was defective and poorly orchestrated. In addition, Transocean employees made a series of mistakes on the rig, including disabling safety systems, failing to properly maintain controls aboard the rig, and not providing adequate training for its crew.
BP has tried to shift blame to its partners. It claimed during the trial that Transocean failed to maintain the drilling rig and that Halliburton provided defective cementing services. But Transocean and Halliburton have returned fire on BP. BP’s cost-cutting led to “reckless decisions” that increased risks. BP employed the “Every Dollar Counts” culture, driven from its top management, directly affected the reckless decisions that were made to disregard known risks in order to save the company time and money.
The negative pressure test taken before the blast was a major factor in what happened on the rig. BP engineers had actual knowledge that the negative pressure test was questionable at best. Nevertheless, they proceeded with conscious disregard to the significant risk of foreseeable danger. The test monitors the well for any increase in pressure or flow of oil or gas up the well. Any pressure increase or fluid flow is an indication that the well isn’t secure and that oil and natural gas could be entering the well. That’s a recipe for disaster. Misinterpretation of this test as successful when it wasn’t was a key cause of the explosion. Both BP and Transocean share blame for the failure.
Judge Barbier has said he may not issue a judgment on fault and gross negligence before the second phase of the trial, which is set for September 16th. The second phase, which concerns the size of the spill and the efforts to contain it, is critical to the Justice Department’s case in proving fines attributable to BP. Damages trials will likely follow.
It should be noted that BP’s settlement last year didn’t cover claims of financial institutions, casinos, real estate businesses, insurance companies, private plaintiffs in parts of Florida and Texas, and residents and businesses claiming harm from the deep-water drilling moratorium imposed after the spill. The settlement also excluded federal and state government claims.
Hundreds of new lawsuits have been filed this year by individuals, businesses and governments around the third-year anniversary of the event, including claims by Texas, Florida and Mississippi. Our firm has successfully handled hundreds of claims thus far and currently represents hundreds more whose claims are either pending or will be filed very soon. If you need more information on any of the above, contact either Rhon Jones, John Tomlinson, Parker Miller, Chris Boutwell or Grant Cofer at 800-898-2034 or by email at Rhon.Jones@beasleyallen.com, John.Tomlinson@beasleyallen.com, Parker.Miller@beasleyallen.com, Chris.Boutwellbeasleyallen.com or Grant.Cofer@beasleyallen.com.
Contact us today for a free legal consultation with an experienced attorney.
Fields marked *may be required for submission.
If you would like to subscribe to the Jere Beasley Report digital edition, simply visit our Subscriptions page and provide the necessary information or call us at 800-898-2034.
Attorney Advertising - Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.