Judge Allows Punitive Damage Claims for Gulf Oil Spill to Move Ahead

August 29, 2011

Plaintiff lawyers claimed a victory on Friday when a U.S. federal judge overseeing hundreds of lawsuits against BP and others over last year’s big oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico allowed much of the case to move ahead, including punitive damages claims.

“We are very pleased with the ruling,” said Stephen Herman, a lead attorney for the plaintiffs, who include more than 100,000 individuals, businesses and property owners alleging spill-related losses. “The court agreed with us on all major points.”

A spokeswoman for BP, the main defendant, said the company had no immediate comment.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans allows claims for punitive damages under general maritime law to move forward. BP and other defendants had asserted in court filings that the Oil Pollution Act does not allow plaintiffs to collect punitive damages.

The ruling dismissed some claims against BP and its co-defendants, including state law claims, which Barbier said are “preempted by maritime law.” It also dismissed general maritime negligence claims against defendants Anadarko and Mitsui’s MOEX Offshore.

The judge also ruled that plaintiffs “have plausibly alleged” Oil Pollution Act claims related to the drilling moratorium and a Gulf Coast cleanup program set up in the wake of the oil spill. Oil Pollution Act claims against Anadarko were kept in the litigation.

The 39-page, 16-part ruling applies to non-governmental claims of economic loss and property damage. It does not cover claims brought by state and local governments that are also included in the consolidated litigation.

The case is In Re: Oil Spill by the Oil Rig “Deepwater Horizon” in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana, No. 2:10-md-02179.

(Reporting by Moira Herbst; Editing by Gary Hill)

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