While time has marched on since the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, we know that the oil spill still feels ever-present for members of the Gulf Coast community impacted by its massive reach. The continuing legal disputes are a reminder of the spill's scope and broad impact. As your Panama City oil spill law firm, we are closely watching the current court battles so that we can bring lessons learned and legal precedents developed in the Gulf oil spill litigation to our future representation of our Florida Panhandle clients.
Current Status of Gulf Oil Spill Legal Disputes
This week, as reported in the News Herald, a civil trial opened in which the United States Justice Department and representatives of impacted citizens are looking to recover monetary damages from BP and its partners. BP previously pled guilty to a number of criminal charges, including manslaughter, resulting in $4 billion in criminal penalties. Those penalties are just one element of the $24 billion the company has spent on spill-related expenses including cleanup costs and payments to businesses and individuals. In the current trial, federal authorities, affected Gulf Coast states, and impacted business and individuals are hoping to convince the judge to hold BP and its partners liable for tens of billions of dollars in civil damages pursuant to the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws. The trial began after settlement talks failed to produce an agreement.
Opening Statements Establish Positions of Plaintiffs, BP, and Other Defendants
In opening statements, the Justice Department lawyer Mike Underhill said that BP put money before safety and suggested the oil giant bears most of the responsibility for the 2010 Gulf Coast oil spill. He blamed the explosion and spill on a "culture of corporate recklessness" at the company. Counsel for individual and business plaintiffs focused on allegations that BP focused on speed over safety and also cited safety failures at the other defendant companies. While BP acknowledged errors in judgment, it has denied being grossly negligent and has also suggested the blame is more appropriately placed on other groups. BP attorney Mike Brock accused Transocean, the drilling rig's owner, of failing to maintain the blowout preventer on the Deepwater Horizon rig and also blamed Halliburton for failures related to cement used on the project. Not surprisingly, the other defendants focused blame on BP during their own opening statements.
Trial Plan and Impact on Future Toxic Tort Cases
Whether BP acted with gross negligence is one of the key issues before Judge Barbier. Such a finding could cause Clean Water Act penalties to nearly quadruple from $1,100 to $4,300 per barrel of oil spilled, resulting in nearly $18 billion in liability under that law alone. Overall, the judge plans to hold the trial in two parts. The first part, which may take three months, will focus on what caused the blowout and will try to assign percentages of blame to companies involved in the spill. In the second part, the focus will shift to determining exactly how much oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico.
Already, the civil case has resulted in more than 300 depositions, nearly 9,000 docket entries, and 90 million pages of documents. It will serve as an example for future complex litigation matters nationwide and create precedent in the environmental and toxic tort arenas. We will continue to follow the case so we can bring its lessons to bear in our work as a Panama City environmental injury law firm. This work includes representing those who suffer physical injury or financial loss due to an oil spill or gas leak in Florida or our Gulf Coast waters.
(Photo by M.M. Meeks)