A federal appellate court approved class certification and a settlement in a class action lawsuit based on the 2010 explosion and oil spill on an oil drilling rig operated by British Petroleum (BP) in the Gulf of Mexico. In re Deepwater Horizon, et al, No. 13-30095, slip op. (5th Cir., Jan. 10, 2014). The spill led to several hundred lawsuits by individuals and businesses claiming property damage, and by individuals claiming personal injury. The recent ruling rejected a request by BP to vacate the district court order approving the settlement. While this ruling specifically involves claims for property damage, BP’s claims and the court’s ruling could also apply to personal injury class actions.
BP operated, Deepwater Horizon, an exploratory oil drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico, about forty miles south of Louisiana. The rig was drilling a well located at a depth of about 5,100 feet underwater. On April 20, 2010, a pocket of methane gas rose into the rig, ignited, and caused an explosion that killed eleven workers and injured over a dozen. Oil flowed from the well directly into the Gulf for almost three months releasing an estimated 205 to 210 million gallons. Oil washed ashore in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, resulting in widespread reports of injured and dead wildlife, property damage, and health problems among residents of the affected areas.
BP was named as a defendant in hundreds of lawsuits. The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) consolidated many of the claims in In re Oil Spill by the Oil Rig “Deepwater Horizon,” No. 2:10-md-02179 (E.D. La.), in August 2010 in order to address common issues as efficiently as possible. BP established a fund to pay claims known as the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF), which would eventually pay out over $6 billion. Starting in 2011, the company negotiated with the plaintiffs in the JPML case to transfer claims from the GCCF to a court-supervised fund.