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BP Spill Class Action Alleges Profiteering, Seeks Punitive Damages

NEW ORLEANS - A group of fishermen, property owners, business owners, and wage earners from five states on Aug. 20 filed a nationwide class action for punitive damages in the BP oil spill (Corliss Gallo, et al. v. BP, No. 2:10-cv-02795, E.D. La.).

The lawsuit appears to fit the mold of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the Exxon Valdez oil spill case, in which it found punitive damages of a 1:1 ratio with actual damages was appropriate in maritime cases but left open the possibility of 3:1 punitive damages ratio in cases of reckless profiteering.

In its complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, the proposed class provides a laundry list of allegations that BP, Transocean, Halliburton and Cameron and their affiliates knew of the potential for disaster in the Gulf, yet did nothing to correct deficiencies in order to escalate profits.

The explosion of the Deepwater Horizon was foreshadowed by a string of prior disastrous incidents and near misses, as well as poor decision-making by defendants' employees, according to the complaint.  They ignored crucial safety issues, cut corners and violated U.S. law to save time and money at the expense of worker safety and environmental protection, the complaint says.

The defendants could have prevented the catastrophic explosion and spill by following required safety protocols and precautionary procedures, properly maintaining equipment and using widely available emergency safety technology aboard the Deepwater Horizon, the complaint states.  Instead, the defendants chose to save money and time by skimping on safety.  Their cost-cutting measures were intentional and outrageous - consistent with their long corporate histories of flagrant disregard for safety - and were taken with willful, wanton and reckless indifference to the disastrous results, according to the complaint.

The suit asserts that the plaintiffs meet all class action requirements, including numerosity, commonality and typicality.  It alleges claims of gross negligence/wantonness, negligence per se, trespass, nuisance, strict liability for abnormally dangerous activity, strict liability for manufacturing defect and state law claims.

The proposed lead plaintiffs are Corliss Gallo, Tight Lines Fishing Charters LLC, Red Hot Fishing Charters, Ernest J. Browne Jr., Gulf Coast Assets LLC, Judy Simpson, Lawrence Simpson, Retreat Inc. and Dave Phelps.

Counsel to the plaintiffs are Dawn M. Barrios, Bruce S. Kingsdorf and Zachary L. Wool of Barrios, Kingsdorf & Casteix in New Orleans and Elizabeth J. Cabraser of Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein in San Francisco and Steven E. Fineman, Wendy R. Fleishman, and Annika K. Martin of the firm's New York office.

Download the complaint.

This update first appeared in HB's Oil Litigation & Insurance Coverage Report.  Developments like this and more will be discussed at the conference titled "Oil in the Gulf: Litigation & Insurance Coverage" scheduled for Nov. 4-5 in Miami produced by HB Litigation Conferences.  For more information, visit subscribers can find Deepwater Horizon-related filings here.  If you do not have a ID, you can get information on how to subscribe here.