Summary and Status of Gulf Oil Disaster Litigation

December 16, 2010

The U.S. Department of Justice has joined the hundreds of lawsuits that have been filed as a result of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the largest in U.S. history.

The following is a summary of the legal cases stemming from the April 20 disaster, which closed fishing areas, stained beaches and sent BP Plc’s stock tumbling.


  • The vast majority are for economic losses filed under the Oil Pollution Act, seeking to recover lost wages or damage to a business. Thousands have claimed they were harmed by the spill, including shrimpers, owners of commercial vessels, seafood processors and even owners of nail salons.
  • Personal injury and wrongful death cases brought by workers hurt in the blast and by families of the 11 killed.
  • The states of Louisiana and Alabama have filed lawsuits over claims for loss of resources, loss of tax revenue and response costs for the cleanup. The federal government is pursuing civil penalties under the Clean Water Act that could top $4,300 per barrel of spilled oil, or $20 billion, if gross negligence is determined.
  • Securities-related claims have been filed on behalf of investors who bought BP’s stock, which lost half its value in the months after the rig explosion.


  • Most have been filed along the Gulf Coast, in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. But some cases have been filed as far away as Ohio and California.
  • About 379 cases, the vast majority of the federal cases, have been consolidated with a federal court in New Orleans. The court is coordinating discovery and other procedural matters. The court has scheduled “test trials” for next year to determine which parties are potentially at fault.
  • The securities-related lawsuits are before a federal court in Houston.
  • At least 13 lawsuits are underway in state courts, mostly in Texas. They include personal injury cases brought by workers hurt in the rig blast or during the cleanup.


  • BP has been the focus of the lawsuits, but numerous other parties have been sued by a variety of plaintiffs. They include:
  • Anadarko Petroleum Corp., which owns a 25-percent stake in the Macondo well that spewed the oil.
  • MOEX Offshore, which holds a 10 percent interest in the well.
  • Transocean Ltd, a Swiss company that is the world’s largest offshore drilling contractor. It owned the Deepwater Horizon rig, which it leased to BP.
  • Halliburton Energy Services Inc, which cemented the blown-out well.
  • Cameron International Corp., which manufactured the blow-out preventer valve that was meant to prevent a spill from the well.
  • M-I LLC, also known as M-I Swaco, which provided drilling fluids for the well.
  • Weatherford International Ltd, a Swiss company that was involved in the casing process for the well.
  • Hyundai Heavy Industries Co Ltd, which manufactured the Deepwater Horizon rig.
  • Triton Asset Leasing.
  • Marine Spill Response Corp., a non-profit that was created to respond to catastrophic oil spills.


  • Judge Carl Barbier, a federal judge in New Orleans, is overseeing the non-securities related lawsuits.
  • Judge Keith Ellison in Houston is overseeing the securities-related litigation.
  • The hundreds of plaintiffs’ cases in New Orleans are being led by an executive committee composed of Louisiana attorneys James Roy and Steve Herman, Brian Barr of Florida and Scott Summy from Texas.


  • BP set up a $20 billion fund to pay claims stemming from the spill. BP has said those suing for an economic loss from the spill must first bring their claim to the fund, which is being overseen by Kenneth Feinberg.
  • The fund has received about 466,000 claims and has paid about $2.5 billion to 167,000 businesses and individuals.
  • Individuals and businesses can accept a partial interim payment or a final settlement for their full claim.
  • It has paid about 72,000 final claims, mostly for lost earnings or business. Those payments required an agreement not to sue.

(Reporting by Tom Hals; Editing by Xavier Briand)

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