Saturday, December 22, 2012

Judge Barbier approves BP Gulf Settlements

Judge Carl Barbier, E.D. Louisiana
The BP Gulf oil spill economic loss class action settlement was approved by District Judge Carl Barbier on December 21, 2012.  Barbier - who manages the litigation arising from the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill - presents (over 125 pages) the history of the litigation and settlement.  It is an excellent overview.  Notable to me is that he does not note in approving the settlement how much wider was the scope of liability recognized here than in other disasters - such as the Exxon Valdez or the Fifth Circuit allowed in M/V Testbank.  There claims were limited under maritime law to fishermen and those who suffered property damage. 
In the Deepwater Horizon spill claimants had the benefit of the Oil Pollution Act (1990) which - Barbier had advised the parties - did not contain the maritime law's restrictions dating back to Robins Dry Dock & Repair Co. v. Flint, 275 U.S. 303 (1927). There Justice Holmes announced the rule that only those who suffered property damage or personal injury could make a claim for economic loss.   Until BP only fishermen had been spared that stricture.  The settlement vindicates the Testbank dissent by civil rights movement hero Judge John Minor Wisdom who argued that all engaged in "primary maritime activity" should be compensated including seafood processors, chandlers, tackle shops, fuel docks, and shoreline companies etc.  The DeepWater Horizon settlement actually exceeds Wisdom's suggested scope. - gwc


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