NEW ORLEANS, La. – U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier ruled last week that BP must face claims under general maritime law, not under state law, in suits brought by Louisiana and Alabama due to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill brought on by the Deepwater Horizon disaster on April 20, 2010.
Barbier said that states can sue for negligence and products liability and are eligible for punitive damages but dismissed claims brought under state environmental laws, including demands for civil penalties, finding they were preempted by federal law governing the Outer Continental Shelf.
“Because the source of this discharge occurred within an exclusive federal jurisdiction, the OCS, the only available law is federal law,” Barbier said in a written decision. “The state-law claims are dismissed.”
Barbier said in his order that most of the defendants argued that the federal Clean Water Act and Outer Continental Shelf Act trumped all claims under state law and that the Oil Pollution Act displaced maritime law claims as well.
Barbier noted that he previously decided in suits brought by private parties that “claims of negligence and products liability under general maritime law were not preempted by OPA, provided that the plaintiff alleged either physical injury to a proprietary interest or qualified for the commercial fisherman exception.”
He also dismissed their claims of nuisance and trespass brought under maritime law.
We are disappointed with the judge’s ruling,” Amanda Papillion Larkins, a spokeswoman for Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, said in a e-mail today. “Our attorneys are reviewing the decision to recommend an appropriate course of action.”
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange said he was also reviewing the decision. “My primary concern regarding the oil spill is that BP and other defendants must be held responsible for the damage and harm caused to our states,” Strange said in an e-mail. State officials are “evaluating our options,” he said.
The case is In Re Oil Spill by the Oil Rig Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, MDL-2179, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans).
Maritime attorneys, Gordon, Elias & Seely, L.L.P. work with Jones Act clients all along the Gulf Coast and throughout the nation. We are the leading offshore injury law firm representing victims of the BP, Transocean Deepwater Horizon disaster, along with assisting businesses that were damaged by the impact of the Gulf oil spill. For a free consultation, call an expert maritime lawyer 24/7 at 800.773.6770.
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