April 20, 2015 marked the five-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. As our Houston offshore injury lawyers report in this article, the tragedy had a dramatic effect not just on the lives of the brave crew who worked on the vessel – 11 men aboard died, and 17 were injured – but also on thousands of people and businesses throughout the Gulf Coast.
This four-part series will outline some of the key factual findings and judicial holdings arising out of the “Macondo” incident, as follows:
- Part I: The Incident & Resulting Litigation
- Part II: Key Factual Findings
- Part III: Legal Fault
- Part IV: Other Legal Issues
PART I: THE INCIDENT & RESULTING LITIGATION
As further discussed below, most of the Deepwater Horizon court proceedings were presided over by Judge Carl Barbier of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. In his Phase 1 findings, Judge Barbier described the incident as follows:
“On the evening of April 20, 2010, a blowout, explosions, and fire occurred aboard the [HORIZON] as it was in the process of temporarily abandoning a well, known as Macondo . . .”
“11 men died, 17 injured.”
“The explosions and/or fire should have triggered the automatic function on the HORIZON’s BOP, but that function either failed to activate the BOP or the BOP otherwise failed to shut in the well.”
“As the rig descended, . . . the approximately 5,000 feet of pipe that connected the rig to the BOP—collapsed and broke. Millions of gallons of oil discharged into the Gulf of Mexico over the next 87 days.”
“[T]he well was finally capped and the discharge halted on July 15, 2010.”
As a result of the incident, “approximately 3,000 cases, with over 100,000 named claimants, have been filed in federal and state courts across the nation. These suits asserted a wide array of claims including wrongful death and personal injury due to the explosion and fire, post-incident personal injury resulting from exposure to oil and/or the chemical dispersants used during the oil spill response, . . . and economic losses resulting from the oil spill.”
The cases were ultimately consolidated into two primary actions in Louisiana:
- In re Triton – Transocean’s action to limit damages under the Limitation of Liability Act. Essentially, Transocean sought to limit the total damages recoverable by all third party plaintiffs—including those asserting claims for personal injury (including Jones Act personal injury claims), business interruption, and property damage —to the value of the rig.
- U.S. v. BP – U.S. Government’s environmental claims under the Clean Water Act and the Oil Pollution Act.
Both cases were filed under statutory admiralty law. This meant that a judge, not a jury, would make critical findings in these matters.
Presiding Judge Barbier divided the proceedings into 3 phases:
- Phase 1 – “Incident” — addressed cause, fault allocation, and Transocean’s limitation defense
- Phase 2 – “Source Control” and “Quantification” — addressed the failure to stop the oil spill, as well as how much oil was spilled
- Phase 3 – “Penalty” — determined the amount of Clean Water Act Penalties
Houston Offshore Injury Lawyers Represent Injured Workers
Morrow & Sheppard are privileged to represent injured offshore workers and their families. We have membership in the Maritime Law Association. We have unique experience, having spent years working for individuals as well as past careers as partners at prestigious firms, where we worked for the large corporations that now pay compensation to the clients we represent.
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**This series draws from material prepared by both Nick Morrow and Jeff Wolff, a partner at Norton Rose Fulbright LLP.