WASHINGTON, D.C. - (Mealey's) The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPMDL) decided Aug. 10 to consolidate hundreds of personal injury and economic damages claims related to the BP PLC Gulf of Mexico oil spill to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana (In re: Oil Spill By The Oil Rig "Deepwater Horizon" In the Gulf Of Mexico, On April 20, 2010, MDL No. 2179, JPMDL).
The JPMDL assigned Judge Carl Barbier to oversee approximately 300 lawsuits. The panel heard arguments in Boise, Idaho, on July 29.
"Some parties have expressed concern that recusals among Eastern District of Louisiana judges unduly limit our choices, and that even Judge Barbier may be subject to recusal," U.S. Judge John G. Heyburn II of the Western District of Kentucky pointed out in the order. "Notwithstanding these concerns, the Panel is quite comfortable with its choice. Judge Barbier is an exceptional jurist, who would be a wise selection for this assignment even had those other judges in the district been available. Moreover, the Fifth Circuit recently denied the petition of certain defendants for a writ of mandamus directing Judge Barbier to recuse himself."
The actions involve damages resulting from the April 20 explosion and fire that destroyed the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico. The explosion killed 11 workers on the rig, which eventually sank. Crude oil gushed from the site and into the Gulf until July.
The panel decided to include the personal injury/wrongful death actions in the MDL, noting that they overlap factually with the other actions seeking economic damages resulting from the oil spill.
"While these actions will require some amount of individualized discovery, in other respects they overlap with those that pursue only economic damage claims," Judge Heyburn said.
MDL 2179 will encompass 77 actions: 31 from the Eastern District of Louisiana, 23 from the Southern District of Alabama, 10 from the Northern District of Florida, eight from the Southern District of Mississippi, two from the Western District of Louisiana, two from the Southern District of Texas and one from the Northern District of Alabama. The panel has also been notified of more than 200 potential tag-along actions.
"Without discounting the spill's effects on other states, if there is a geographic and psychological 'center of gravity' in this docket, then the Eastern District of Louisiana is closest to it," Judge Heyburn concluded.
Judge Barbier has scheduled the initial pretrial conference for Sept. 17.
[Editor's Note: Full coverage will be in the Aug. 23 issue of Mealey's Personal Injury Report. In the meantime, the transfer order is available at www.mealeysonline.com or by calling the Customer Support Department at 1-800-833-9844. Document #77-100823-003R. For all of your legal news needs, please visit www.lexisnexis.com/mealeys.]
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