BP wins motion to keep past failures out of oil spill trial

By Kyle Barnett | Feb 14, 2012

Federal Judge Carl Barbier

NEW ORLEANS – U.S. Federal Judge Carl Barbier has granted a motion by BP to keep past instances of criminal activity and improper conduct out of an upcoming trial.

Barbier, who presides over multi-district litigation involving the Deepwater Horizon explosion and resulting oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, ruled that past failures were not sufficiently similar to the present incident to warrant their inclusion. However, the judge said instances of past criminal, civil and regulatory proceedings against BP may be used in assessing punitive damages against the company in later phases of the trial.

The Plaintiff Steering Committee (PSC) was hoping to introduce past safety failures by the company to show a history of negligence on behalf of BP. Of those past incidents, a 2005 explosion of a refinery at Texas City, Texas could have been potentially the most damaging. BP pled guilty to violations of the Clean Air Act and was fined $50 million in the Texas City incident that killed 15 people and injured 80.

Another instance blocked from being included as evidence was a 2000 Grangemouth, Scotland petrochemical facility incident in which a fire was created by an ignited vapor cloud subsequent to power failure and a steam pipe main rupture. No one was seriously injured in that occurrence.

The final incident that was disallowed as evidence was the failure of a corroded pipeline in Prudhoe Bay, Ala. that resulted in 200,000 gallons of spilled oil. In that incident, BP pled guilty to criminal counts under the Clean Water Act and was assessed a $20 million fine.

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