U.S. States May Seek Punitive Damages in BP Spill

November 15, 2011

A federal judge Monday said Alabama and Louisiana may seek punitive damages from companies including BP Plc for damages arising from last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans followed his similar ruling on Aug. 26 as to claims raised by thousands of individuals, businesses and property owners alleging spill-related losses.

Barbier said the states can pursue claims for negligence and products liability, as well as punitive damages, under general maritime law. He dismissed other claims, including claims under state law and claims alleging nuisance and trespass.

A BP spokesman had no immediate comment.

Among the defendants in the states’ cases were BP, which owned a majority of the Macondo well, whose blowout led to the spill ; Anadarko Petroleum Corp, which had a 25 percent stake in the well; Transocean Ltd, which owned the drilling rig; Cameron International Corp, which made a blowout preventer, and Halliburton Co, which provided cementing services.

Barbier also dismissed general maritime law negligence claims against Anadarko and a BP drilling partner, Mitsui & Co’s MOEX Offshore 2007 LLC.

The Deepwater Horizon’s April 20, 2010 explosion caused 11 deaths and led to the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

Alabama and Louisiana sued to recover money for damages to natural resources and property, economic damages such as lost tax revenue, cleanup costs and reputational damage.

Barbier oversees hundreds of lawsuits arising from the spill. He has set a February 2012 start date for a trial to parse blame among the defendants.

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. 10-md-02179.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Carol Bishopric)

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