We've all seen the devastation that results from major oil spills on land or at sea. During the Exxon Valdez incident in 1989, for example, an oil tanker struck a reef in Alaska's Prince William Sound leading to the release of nearly 11 million gallons of oil into the coastal waters. Along with the loss of wildlife, over 1,000 miles of coastline were impacted by the spill.
Depending on the mixture of oil involved and its concentration, oil spills can be toxic. Because of this, and because of the widespread environmental and economic impact, oil spill lawsuits are one way for local communities to seek some recourse for their losses. However, they're not the only groups that utilize the judicial system after an oil spill as environmental groups and even the companies at fault also reach out to the courts for help.
Below you'll find a few examples of cases highlighting the wide range of litigants and relief sought in oil spill lawsuits.
What do Oil Spill Lawsuits Look Like?
Oil spill lawsuits have been utilized by various litigants seeking protection through the court system. Oil spill victims and environmental organizations have used lawsuits to obtain accountability from the companies at fault, but also from federal and state agencies responsible for regulating those companies. Oil companies themselves have also filed suit seeking to limit their liability through the court system.
For a better idea of how these oil spill lawsuits manifest themselves in the court system, a small sample of cases related to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 are described below.
In Re Transocean Holdings LLC
Transocean was the owner and operator of the offshore oil rig that exploded in 2010 and triggered the Gulf oil spill. At the time the rig was being leased by British Petroleum (BP). Because of this, Transocean filed a complaint in federal court seeking to limit its liability solely to the amount of its interest in the oil rig, which was nearly $27 million.
Abbott v. Salazar
In this case, a former BP contractor filed a lawsuit alleging that BP had not verified that the systems were functioning properly on its Atlantis oil rig which was also in the Gulf of Mexico and that this could lead to disaster even worse than the Gulf oil spill. Interestingly, this complaint wasn't filed against BP, but against federal officials with the Department of the Interior, seeking an order compelling them to halt the rig's operations.
Sierra Club v. Salazar
In this case, the Sierra Club and other environmental groups also filed suit against federal Interior Department officials related to the Gulf oil spill. Their complaint alleged that the federal government had illegally granted a waiver allowing BP to drill in over 5,000 feet of water without analyzing blow-out and worst-case oil spill analysis. The environmental groups claimed that this unlawful exemption ultimately contributed to the oil spill.
Hornbeck Offshore Services v. Salazar
In this case, several companies in the offshore oil and gas industry filed a lawsuit against federal officials. Their complaint sought to end the moratorium on offshore drilling imposed after the Gulf oil spill. The federal court agreed and issued an order holding that the moratorium was arbitrary, caused irreparable harm and was not enacted under proper procedures.
Need Help? Get a Free Initial Review of Your Oil Spill Case
Oil spill lawsuits come in a variety of forms and have even been used to hold governmental agencies to task. If you've been affected by oil spills or other situations involving toxic substances, a toxic torts attorney can help you determine your next steps. Get in touch with one today for a free initial review of the facts of your case.
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