BP Can be Sued for Punitive Damages
U.S. District Court Judge Carl Barbier ruled in a Louisiana court that the oil company BP can be sued for punitive damages under maritime law. Over 100, 000 persons, companies and authorities have filed claims for economic loss resulting from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill last year. Judge Barbier is overseeing 500 cases, including class actions, against BP and its principal co-defendants including rig owner, Transocean.
Barbier’s ruling will allow the plaintiffs to present the case that BP and its co-defendants acted with extreme negligence and deserve to be punished financially for it.
The main trial against BP, Transocean and their codefendants will begin next year, on February 27 and is expected to last months. Judge Barbier, who will preside over the trial without a jury, had previously outlined a three-phase plan that would first focus on the “incident phase”, the causes of the well blowout, rig blast and release of oil. The second phase of the trial will focus on the efforts to stop the actual spill and will attempt to quantify how much oil spilled from the well. The final phase will include testimony about the spill cleanup. In his punitive damages decision, the judge also said that maritime law must cover all claims and dismissed the claims filed under state law.
Independent of the principal trial and any damages BP might have to pay them, most Gulf Coast residents are now settling their claims from the $20 billion compensation fund ordered by President Obama and administered by attorney Ken Feinberg. A different group of lawsuits, the ones brought by “Vessels of Opportunity” (VOO) boat owners, is likely to enter mediation in October. In the VOO cases, hundreds of boat owners (of the 3,000 hired by BP last year to help with the clean up effort) claim that BP failed to deliver on their promises of payment and boat decontamination. According to that case, “Thousands of participants, including plaintiffs, were left holding the bag for millions of dollars for unpaid services, equipment, materials, repairs and decontaminations.”Continued on the next page