US Deepwater Horizon explosion & oil spill lawsuits - Consolidated proceedings

Consolidated proceedings

To avoid inconsistent results in similar cases with the same facts, cases brought before in different jurisdictions may be consolidated by the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation.  In May 2010, BP and Transocean moved to have the cases against them consolidated.  Some plaintiffs’ lawyers have objected to consolidation, while others have filed motions for consolidation.  On 10 August 2010, the Panel consolidated federal economic loss, environmental damage, wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits arising out of the Deepwater Horizon explosion.  They will be tried in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana, in New Orleans, and presided by Judge Carl Barbier.  (This does not include cases brought under the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, the special compensation procedure funded by BP and administered by Kenneth Feinberg.)

On 16 September 2010, a first hearing was held in the consolidated federal proceedings.  Plaintiffs’ lawyers argued for an early trial date and requested access to documents and evidence, while BP and its co-defendants first wanted to determine the scope of lawsuits including determination of which parties were to be involved.  Judge Barbier agreed to a plan proposed by both defence and plaintiffs’ lawyers to hear the claims in ”pleading bundles”, whereby claims are to be sorted according to their nature.  Pleading bundles will include:

  • personal injury and death resulting directly from the events on 20 April (to be pled individually);

  • private individuals and business loss claims including economic losses relating to livelihood and claims relating to the clean-up;

  • public damage claims; and

  • injunctive and regulatory claims, i.e. claims requiring someone to do or to refrain from a specific action and claims challenging regulatory action (as opposed to most other claims, which are for monetary damages).

It was also agreed that the plaintiffs would compile “master” complaints including all the different types of actions brought against defendant companies filed by 15 December 2010.  New complaints could then be filed in a simplified manner and more easily be added to the list of actions.  The court has set a deadline of 20 April 2011 for new claims to be filed against Transocean.

On 6 October 2010, a tentative start date for a trial to assign fault was set for 27 February 2012.  This trial will be a non-jury trial with the purpose to determine who is to blame for the disaster and what proportion of the damages the companies will bear.  It will not assess the extent or the value of damages.  On 8 October 2010, the Court appointed a 15-member “Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee” to take the lead on all plaintiffs’ claims in the consolidated proceedings.  Lawyers who are not on the steering committee effectively lose control of the lawsuits they have filed.  The order also named a 4-person “Plaintiff Executive Committee” to coordinate the activities of the steering committee.  On 15 October, the court set June 2011 as a tentative date for the first federal trial on damage claims by business and individuals under the Oil Pollution Act.  On 19 October, the Court established a timeline for submissions, proceedings and trial cases.  Following doubts raised by a presidential commission on 28 October about the cement used by Halliburton to seal the well, Judge Barbier ordered tests to be performed on the cement as soon as possible.

On 15 December 2010, three master complaints were filed, including a complaint regarding private economic loss and property damage claims following the Deepwater Horizon blowout, explosion and subsequent oil spill; a complaint regarding the chemical exposure and property damage related to the post-explosion clean-up and; a complaint on injunctive and regulatory claims against private parties.

On 3 Mar 2012, BP announced an out of court settlement with the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee.  BP is to pay $7.8 billion to settle private plaintiffs’ claims for economic loss, property damage & injuries.  On 4 September 2014, Judge Barbier issued a ruling finding BP grossly negligent and guilty of wilful misconduct in the Deepwater Horizon disaster.  The judge also found Halliburton and Transocean guilty of negligence.

- "Judge: BP 'grossly negligent' in Deepwater Horizon spill", Petro Global News, 4 Sep 2014
- "BP Trial Will Be in January", Louisiana AG Caldwell Says, Allen Johnson Jr., Margaret Cronin, Bloomberg, 3 May 2012
- "BP Reaches Estimated $7.8 Billion Deal With Spill Victims", Jef Feeley, Bloomberg, 5 Mar 2012
- "BP's US trial over Deepwater Horizon oil spill is postponed for a week", Gwyn Topham, Guardian [UK], 26 Feb 2012
- “Judge orders test on Halliburton cement in BP well”, Cain Burdeau, Associated Press, 29 Oct 2010
- “Judge eyes June 2011 for first oil spill trial”, Michael Kunzelman, Associated Press, 15 Oct 2010
- “Gulf Coast attorneys to lead U.S. oil spill lawsuits”, Tom Hals, Reuters, 10 Oct 2010
- "Trial to parse Gulf spill blame set for Feb 2012”, Tom Hals, Reuters, 6 Oct 2010
- ”Barbier approves pleading BP claims into 'bundles'”, Alejandro de los Rios, Louisiana Record, 20 Sep 2010
- “Hearing into US Gulf lawsuits opens in New Orleans”, Tom Hals, Reuters, 16 Sep 2010
- “BP Will Face ‘Thousands’ of Spill Cases, Judge Says”, Jef Feeley, Margaret Cronin Fisk, Bloomberg, 16 Sep 2010
- “New Orleans Federal Judge to Hear Consolidated BP Oil Spill Cases”, Leigh Jones, National Law Journal [USA], 11 Aug 2010
- “BP Gulf-Spill Lawsuits Consolidated in New Orleans”, Jef Feeley, Margaret Cronin Fisk, Bloomberg, 11 Aug 2010
- “United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation Hears Arguments”, James Garner, Gerson Lehrman Group, 30 Jul 2010
- “An Explosion of Litigation: BP and Deepwater Horizon” [PDF], John Clay, Energy Litigation, Summer 2010

Legal documents:

- U.S. District Court for Eastern District of Louisiana: [PDF] In re: Oil Spill by the Oil Rig "Deepwater Horizon" in the Gulf of Mexico, on April 20, 2010 - Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, Phase I Trial, 4 Sep 2014
- U.S. District Court for Eastern District of Louisiana: Master Claim in Limitation and Master Complaint, Cross-claim and Third Party Complaint for Private Economic Losses ("B1 Bundle"), 15 Dec 2010
Website for Multidistrict Litigation – “Oil Spill by the Oil Rig ‘Deepwater Horizon’”
- U.S. District Court for Eastern District of Louisiana: [PDF] In re: Oil Spill by the Oil Rig “Deepwater Horizon” in the Gulf of Mexico, on April 20,2010: Pretrial order No. 11, 19 Oct 2010
- US District Court for Eastern District of Louisiana: [PDF] Minute entry [from pretrial conference], 16 Sep 2010
- U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation: [PDF] In Re: Oil spill by the oil rig “Deepwater Horizon” in the Gulf of Mexico, on April 20, 2010: Transfer Order, 10 Aug 2010

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