Chicago attorney H. Patrick Morris, an experienced toxic tort attorney who has represented major oil companies, said that not a single defense lawyer involved in the BP oil spill litigation would talk to him before his speech at the DRI Toxic Tort and Environmental Law conference held today in New Orleans.
Morris said that he was surprised that DRI approached him to speak because he's not involved in the multidistrict litigation (MDL) related to the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and subsequent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
"I said, 'Why don't you call some of the people who do have clients in the oil spill?" Morris said in his opening remarks. "Their answer was, 'None of them can speak, they won't talk to the audience."
Morris then amused the audience of attorneys with an anecdote about how "no amount of coercion" would convince any of the defense lawyers to speak to him about the specifics of BP proceedings.
Morris said that one of the attorneys he spoke to described an incident in which a defense attorney spoke to the Wall Street Journal and nearly lost a client as a result.
Morris's presentation was titled "Oil and Water Don't mix: Getting a Handle on All of the Moving Parts of the Oil Spill Litigation."
In it, he gave a brief but detailed overview about the different aspects of the BP litigation that he was able "to gather from the attorneys who refused to talk to me."
Speaking about the case in general, Morris said there's "never been a case like this." He poked fun at how news reports indicated that BP, Transocean, Halliburton, engineers, President Barack Obama, former Vice President Dick Cheney and natural physics have all been blamed for the oil spill.
After going through the engineering aspects of what went wrong with the Deepwater Horizon and its Macondo well, Morris spoke about the case in general. He noted that, like many MDLs, this one is using a master complaint system to help sort out plaintiffs.
Morris also pointed out the issue of indemnity between defense parties and how uncertainty over what components failed and when, have made defendants hesitant to accept any sort of liability.
"I think one of the major lessons to come out of this is that we all have to take a better look at our joint operating agreements," he said.
Morris highlighted the relationship between BP and Halliburton. One of the established and undisputed facts of the case states that the cement used in drilling the well failed. Halliburton has claimed that BP was responsible for improper installation of the cement that led to the explosion, while BP contends that Halliburton supplied a faulty product.
Ultimately, though, Morris said the indemnification disputes between defendants are likely to be resolved behind closed doors.
"My strong suspicion is that no one wants that played out in a court of law," he said. "There will be some other vehicle to resolve indemnity."