Today U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier ruled BP was guilty of reckless conduct and gross negligence in the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the largest oil spill disaster in U.S. history. The decision leaves the oil giant open to billions of dollars in fines.
Judge Barbier, who is overseeing the multidistrict litigation (MDL) in New Orleans, held BP liable for 67 percent of the fault in the oil spill disaster, while apportioning 30 percent of the fault to Transocean and 3 percent to Halliburton. The three companies were the primary owners and operators of the Deepwater Horizon oil platform that exploded on July 20, 2010, killing 11 workers and setting off the massive oil spill.
“The order by Judge Barbier is critically important to the ongoing litigation against BP and the other wrongdoers,” said Jere Beasley, Principal & Founder of Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis and Miles, P.C. “We had anticipated that BP would have the greatest percentage of fault and obviously Judge Barbier agreed. This order may allow punitive damages to be assessed against BP and, based on their conduct, I would expect the amount will be huge. The various claimants, including the State of Alabama, will benefit greatly as the result of this order.”
The decision is a key turning point in ongoing litigation to determine legal responsibility for the extensive economic and environmental damages resulting from the spill. The Plaintiffs include the federal government, the five Gulf states directly affected by the spill – Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas and Florida – banks, restaurants, fishermen, and others who have pursued claims for losses related to the spill.
The question of how much oil was spilled, which will determine the extent of BP’s liability – has not yet been decided. That will come in a later order. Experts estimate BP may face fines as high as $18 billion. Because it has been found guilty of gross negligence, BP could ultimately be liable for punitive damages.
The case is In re Oil Spill by the Oil Rig Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, MDL-2179, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans).