Hundreds of Lawsuits Filed In Wake Of Gulf Oil Spill; More To Come


Two hundred lawsuits have already been filed against embattled petroleum giant BP in the wake of that company’s massive oil spill, and many more are yet to come, say legal experts.

The explosion at BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, which killed 11 workers and spurred the environmental and economic catastrophe, occurred on April 20. Since then, lawyers have brought death and injury claims on behalf of those who worked on the rig or their families; shareholder suits over the company’s rapidly falling stock; and claims of economic loss and damage to the livelihoods of people who fish the Gulf or operate tourism-related business on it shores. Cases have even been filed on behalf of the fish and birds that have been covered with the toxic oil.

Some lawyers have said they plan to file a civil racketeering suit, alleging that BP entered into a corporate conspiracy with the Bush administration.

A panel of judges will meet in Boise, Idaho in July, to decide matters related to the lawsuits, including which lawsuits to consolidate, which judges will hear the cases, and where the cases will be heard. The options for venue include New Orleans, which would favor plaintiffs; Houston, where that city’s oil-friendly attitude may bode well for BP; or to a third, neutral location.

It may be difficult to locate judges to preside over the trials, as well; half of the active judges in New Orleans’s federal judicial district have already recused themselves from oil spill-related cases.

Litigation will likely hinge on the issue of liability, both for BP and for the companies that worked with the oil behemoth. Cases of compensation for wrongful death and personal injury, which will mostly involve the oil rig workers and their families, should prove to be the simplest ones for attorneys to establish liability. Landowners with damaged property and those who have lost their income due to the spill will also have strong cases. There are many others expected to bring suit whose claims may be more difficult to adjudicate, including restaurants who serve the fisherman, the suppliers of those restaurants, the manufacturers of fishing-boat parts, and so on.

The Oil Pollution Act, which will govern how many of these cases are decided, requires that pollution stem directly from a rig, vessel, or other tangible piece of property owned by the company in question. In this case, of course, there is no such property, as the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded. Attorneys could therefore argue that the pollution, which comes simply from a hole on the sea floor, is not BP’s problem under that statute.


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