This week I attended a hearing in New Orleans regarding the Gulf of Mexico disaster surrounding the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion. Hundreds of lawyers flew in from all over the country to attend Thursday’s hearing. Judge Barbier held our open hearing on Thursday and scheduled a very important date in the litigation. A trial has now been set in October of 2011 with regard to the Limitation of Liability. Getting this date set is crucial to our case. Everything that takes place in preparation for that trial will help our maritime lawyers determine which parties we feel are liable for the oil rig explosion and how to apportion that liability.
Meanwhile, just as the litigation is getting underway, and nearly five months after the rig explosion occurred, the Macondo oil well that spewed 206 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico is set to be plugged permanently. A relief well has intersected BP’s blown-out well, one of the final steps required to bottom kill the well. The government has confirmed its own data shows the two wells are joined. Mud and cement were fully pumped down through the relief well to seal the ruptured well from the bottom Friday night at 8:30 pm. Now BP waits for the cement to harden. Once the cement hardens, the well is considered fully sealed. The well was top-killed in July with a temporary cap. Mud and cement were pushed down into the well allowing the cap to be removed. But, this oil well is not technically “dead” until it is also sealed from the bottom.
As we now know, BP PLC is a majority owner of the well and was leasing the Deepwater Horizon oil rig from its owner, Transocean Ltd. Transocean Ltd. filed to limit its liability in Houston in May, seeking to limit its legal exposure to $26.8 million, the value of the sunken rig and its cargo. The Limitation of Shipowner’s Liability Act is an 1851 maritime law that allows vessel owners to limit their liability to the value of the sunken ship and its freight if they can show they had no knowledge of problems before the offshore accident. Despite Transocean’s best efforts to keep the Deepwater Horizon cases in Houston, last month, the proceeding was transferred to New Orleans along with all related litigation over the oil rig explosion and oil spill disaster.
Transocean will have to prove it had no idea about the safety issues on its own offshore oil rig, the Deepwater Horizon. But beyond that, during the limitation proceedings, the court will apportion fault among the defendants, settling just one year from now some of our biggest questions: what went wrong and who has to pay for it.
While Judge Barbier did not decide what material will be open for discovery and when, he did say, “I do think that discovery needs to begin moving forward. The scope of the discovery, we can discuss.” Barbier also indicated that he would allow our plaintiffs to serve subpoenas on government entities, as long as they give the government and the defendants 15 days notice of what they’re asking for.
The next status hearing in our case will be Friday, Oct. 15 at 9:30 am. The maritime lawyers of Schechter, Shaffer & Harris, L.L.P., Accident & Injury Lawyers are honored to represent multiple injured crewmembers from the Deepwater Horizon and the family of one of the deceased. For more information about this case, please contact us at [email protected].