In a major turn of events, Judge Carl Barbier ruled recently in the multi-district litigation filed on the Eastern District of the U.S. District Court in New Orleans that plaintiffs in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill litigation will be allowed to seek punitive damages and maritime law remedies against BP and other companies responsible for the catastrophic explosion and oil spill that occurred in April 2010. Previously, BP had files a motion in court seeking to dismiss thousands of economic damage claims pending in Louisiana Court.
To determine whether certain claims should remain in the litigation, Judge Barbier had to wade through the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, the outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, and federal maritime law, as well as state laws. Lawyers defending BP and other defendants argued that the oil spill victims could not seek punitive damages because the federal Oil Pollution Act was silent, and because the Oil Pollution Act displaces federal maritime law, which provides for punitive damages.
Judge Barbier disagreed with the defendant and rules that fisherman and those with direct physical property damage from the oil spill can pursue punitive damages against the defendants, as traditional plaintiffs have been able to do for years under maritime law. Moreover, Judge Barbier determined that the case properly falls within maritime law and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. Maritime law allows for claims of negligence. gross negligence and strict liability for manufacturing or design defects.