September 2, 2011

Oil spill plaintiffs allowed to pursue punitive damages claims against BP

I'm jumping back into blogging after 6 weeks away from the office.  Thanks to my colleagues Lisa Perrochet and Jeremy Rosen for keeping the blog rolling in my absence.

Here's a bit of news from earlier in the week: AP reports that U.S. district judge Carl Barbier of the Eastern District of Louisiana will allow thousands of fisherman and businesses affected by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill to seek punitive damages from BP, Halliburton, Transocean Ltd., and a host of other defendants.  You can find Judge Barbier's order and other materials from the litigation on this special page on the court's website.

The order permits the plaintiffs to seek punitive damages under general maritime law, which allows punitive damages based on a showing of "gross negligence."  The order concludes that such claims are not preempted by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 ("OPA"), a comprehensive statute that addresses responsibility for oil spills, but is silent as to the availability of punitive damages.  The order declines to follow a First District Circuit decision (South Port Marine v. Gulf Oil Limited Partnership), which held that punitive damages were not available under the OPA.  You can bet BP and the other defendants will take that up on appeal.