Continuing Lessons from Continuing Coverage of the Legal Fallout from the Deepwater Horizon Disaster

In April, we will hit the three-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The incident rocked our Gulf Coast community. People involved in the oil industry worried about workplace safety, and we all worried about the environmental and economic fallout of the explosion and oil spill. Our Panama City environmental injury law firm is continuing to follow the legal developments stemming from the disaster so that we can be prepared to serve local clients harmed by oil and gas industry disasters.

Legal Developments Stemming From the Deepwater Horizon Explosion and Gulf Coast Oil Spill

BP's Criminal Case

As reported in the News Herald, the criminal case against BP was resolved with a $4 billion plea agreement announced this week. The criminal hearing included emotional testimony from relatives of the 11 workers who died in the initial explosion and an apology from a BP executive. U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance approved the settlement pursuant, to which BP pled guilty to manslaughter charges for those 11 worker deaths and also pled guilty to charges it lied to the government about the extent of the spill. The money includes payment of fines and money directed towards restoration and prevention projects.

BP's Civil Cases on Charges Brought by Government and Private Individuals

We have often noted the separation between the criminal and civil systems, a division that is key here as the civil claims against BP remain unresolved. Settlement talks are ongoing and could resolve the civil disputes between BP and both federal and state authorities. Absent such an agreement, a trial will open on February 25 seeking to identify the causes of the well blowout and to assign blame percentages to BP and other companies involved in the Deepwater Horizon project. Some legal experts expect the case to settle before trial for more than twice the amount as BP is paying to resolve the criminal counts. One incentive to settle from BP's standpoint is the fact that penalties would climb much higher if the government convinces the court that BP acted with gross negligence in the period leading to the accident.

Of course, there are many individuals who have sought damages from BP. Most of the families who lost a loved one on the rig and most of those injured in the explosion have settled their own claims against BP. In a separate settlement, BP agreed to a deal with lawyers representing Gulf Coast residents and business owners who lost money as a result of the spill. BP has said it expects this portion of the legal fallout will cost the company about $7.8 billion.

An Overview of the Total Costs to Defendants

BP has, according to one estimate, already spent $24 billion on spill-related expenses and may end up with a total bill around $42 billion. There are also other defendants involved in criminal and civil litigation stemming from the explosion and spill. This includes civil and criminal claims that the government has settled with Transocean Ltd., the rig owner. It also includes criminal charges against individual employees ranging from manslaughter to withholding information from Congress.

Why We Follow This Story (and many others like it)

As a law firm for Panama City disaster victims, we are following this litigation closely. We are watching to make sure the people we know and care about are compensated fully and fairly. We are also watching to learn the legal lessons from the litigation so that we can better serve our clients in future. We want to see what sort of evidence the court focuses on, how much victim testimony affects a decision, and to understand what techniques we should employ when we present our client's cases involving similar matters.

We also want to stay on top of the rulings, including comments made by judges while handing down their written decisions. Call if we can put this knowledge to work for you. If you believe an oil spill, gas leak, or other toxic release has caused you harm, we'd love to arrange a free consultation to discuss your legal rights.

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