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Monday, June 14, 2010

Shades of Exxon V Baker: Transocean Invokes Maritime Law To Limit Liability

[Image to left by Carolyn Kaster / The Associated Press of Steven Newman, president and CEO of Transocean Limited, testifies during a House subcommittee hearing on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.]

The article below ran May 13, 2010 and I missed it. I wrote an article that ran in the Anchorage Daily News a couple of years ago objecting to the Supreme Court's decision in Exxon v Baker to permit the Circuit Court decision to stand that allowed Exxon attorneys to introduce ex post facto a new argument in the case: this very same limitation of liability now being requested by Deepwater Horizon Ltd. Will BP's attorneys be far behind in invoking this same precedent set by Exxon? I think not. All the while, of course, their PR shop will be telling the world that they will 'do the right thing' for the victims of the disaster. In the Exxon case, Professor Arthur Miller of the New York University School of Law, an expert in court procedure, filed an amicus brief objecting to the action of the Circuit Court in allowing the introduction by Exxon attorneys after the deadline for such new or amended legal argument had passed. Miller asked the SCOTUS to set aside the limitation on liability based upon the very argument now being advanced by Deepwater Horizon. Of course the Roberts Court ignored Professor Miller's plea and reduced Exxon's liability to a dime on the dollar of the original jury award.

It does not take a law degree or much of a legal imagination to guess where the Roberts Court's thumb will be applied upon the scales of justice when the BP gangsters and their consigliore finally reach their SCOTUS safe-house and the motherly embrace of Mama Scalia.
SCOTT HIAASEN, McClatchy Newspapers

MIAMI -- Reaching back to an 1851 law, the legal push to limit liability for the 2010 oil spill has begun. Transocean, Ltd., the Switzerland-based offshore contractor that owned the Deepwater Horizon floating drilling rig, has asked a federal court in Houston to limit its liability from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill to less than $27 million.

Invoking a little-known maritime law passed in 1851, the company said it should not have to pay any more than the salvage value of the charred oil rig and its freight, all of which sank in 5,000 feet of water after the April 20 explosion that killed 11 workers. Before the accident, the Deepwater Horizon was valued at more than $500 million.

In a statement, Transocean said the court petition was filed at the request of its insurance companies, and the petition will allow the company to consolidate all outstanding lawsuits before a single federal judge in Houston. The company said it now faces more than 100 lawsuits over the spill in several states.

Lawyers for those injured in the blast said the petition could also prevent any claims filed more than six months after the accident.

"It's very unfair," said Matthew Shaffer, a Houston attorney who represents a handful of Transocean employees injured in the blast. "It's a slap in the face to anyone who has been injured because of their negligence."

Transocean's filing comes as the Obama administration and Congress seek to retroactively raise liability limits that would cap the cost BP, the runaway well's owner, would have to pay. The current limit is $75 million. Some members of Congress have proposed raising that to $10 billion.

Shaffer said Transocean must prove it did nothing wrong to cause the accident in order to successfully limit its damages.

"I think it's hard to believe they didn't have any knowledge of what was going on on their own rig," Shaffer said.


(c) 2010, The Miami Herald.


Mickey said...

nice writing, Meta...

Anonymous said...

Liars and their Lawyers...polluters of the soul!

Anonymous said...

I followed the EVOS legal process pretty closely, even though, like you, I live in Seattle. I fished in Alaska for years. Exxon lied. And watching the BP stuff unfold is like watching a slow-motion playback of the EVOS, I swear to God! You nailed it with this one, Meta...thanks!

Ms Fitz said...

I heard Shannyn Moore talk about the "death penalty" for Corporations. I think a $20 B trust is a start. I heard on NPR that BP has liquidable assets of over $300 B. They are earning $3.5 B a month. They would be hard to kill.

Thanks for this post.

Steven J said...

I found Judge Souter's opinion interesting to read. It was basically a tort reform rant. It falsely asserted that the grounding was not due to Exxon's understaffing. I didn't know you were allowed to lie in a Supreme Court ruling. Because there is very little precedent in maritime law he was able to rationalize whatever he wanted with little constraint.

metanoia2k said...

Steven J--Now that it has been revealed that the major oil companies basically plagiarized the same Oil Spill Term Paper and are clearly bad actors, 'tort reform' seems rather off-point. There should be a law against actuaries and lawyers calculating the ROI on appealing a tariff ruling, for example, running out the clock on their appeals and then forking over the money while gaining interest and use of the funds. But I guess legal foot-dragging by corporations is not deemed 'frivolous' when it means getting added value from the invisible hand of Adam Smith.

Browner said...

Thanks for posting this along with your excellent commentary! You need to promote your blog more!

S Browner (Attorney-at-Law)