Lawyers want Barbier to rewrite order preventing them from suing Deepwater captain and crew

Steve Korris Feb. 15, 2011, 12:43pm


Houston lawyers want U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier to rewrite a Houston judge's order that keeps them from suing the captain and crew of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.

Lawyers from Arnold & Itkin claim that when District Judge Keith Ellison enjoined suits against the rig's owners, he incorrectly enjoined suits against their employees.

In a Feb. 9 motion to modify Ellison's injunction, they told Barbier the Limitation of Liability Act protects vessel owners but not employees or agents.

Cory Itkin wrote that "plaintiffs may sue the captain of a vessel in state court even though the vessel owner has filed a petition for limitation."

Barbier set the motion for hearing on March 2.

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multi District Litigation appointed
him last year to preside over civil suits from the explosion at the rig and the resulting oil spill.

Prior to the panel's consolidation of cases, Transocean Offshore Deepwater Drilling and three affiliates petitioned Ellison for exoneration or limitation of liability.

Ellison limited claims against them to $26,764,083, the value of the vessel and its freight.

He enjoined "any and all suits, actions or legal proceedings of any nature or description whatsoever, in any jurisdiction except in this action."

When the panel transferred the case to Barbier, he inherited Ellison's order.

He also inherited an argument of the U.S. government that the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 repealed the 160 year old Limitation of Liability Act.

According to assistant attorney general Tony West, the act can't enjoin environmental suits under state or federal environmental laws.

He wrote that Transocean issued about $1 billion in dividends to shareholders after filing its limitation petition.

"Transocean announced that it actually booked a $270 million accounting gain on the difference between the real value of the Deepwater Horizon and the amount received in hull insurance following the vessel's sinking," he wrote.

Barbier decided to hold trial on limitation before proceeding to other claims.

He set trial next February.

The same panel that put Barbier in charge of most oil spill suits appointed Ellison to preside over shareholder suits against rig operator BP.

More News