(Updates with details from arguments starting in eighth paragraph.)
Dec. 22 (Bloomberg) -- Cameron International Corp. asked a federal appeals court to derail the February nonjury trial over which companies should be blamed for the 2010 BP Plc oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Cameron, which made the blow-out prevention equipment used for the Macondo well, asked a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals meeting in Dallas to throw out the existing trial plan and rule that the company has a right to a trial before a jury. U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, who is overseeing much of the spill litigation, has scheduled the nonjury trial for Feb. 27 in New Orleans to determine liability and apportion fault.
Barbier plans two subsequent nonjury phases on the size of the spill and efforts to contain it. Test jury trials on damages would follow, the judge said. Cameron, which settled damage claims with BP last week, said the trial plan violates its constitutional rights.
“There is not a claim against Cameron that does not implicate our right to a jury trial under the Seventh Amendment,” Russell Post, a Cameron attorney, told the judges at the hearing in federal court. That amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees citizens’ and companies’ rights to jury trials in civil disputes.
The April 2010 Macondo well blowout and explosion killed 11 workers and caused the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. The accident spawned hundreds of lawsuits against BP and its partners, including Cameron, Transocean Ltd., the Switzerland- based owner and operator of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that exploded and Halliburton Co., which provided cementing services.
The lawsuits for injuries, economic and environmental loss are combined before Barbier in federal court in New Orleans. The judge has cited maritime laws as the basis for his decision to review liability issues without a jury.
Officials of Houston-based Cameron agreed last week to pay BP $250 million in exchange for the oil company’s indemnifying it from damage claims. The settlement doesn’t cover fines or penalties or punitive damages.
Post told judges from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals today Barbier’s plan to resolve spill liability issues violates the company’s constitutional right to a jury trial. “The jury right controls,” he told the three-judge panel.
The company also contends Barbier’s trial plan invites plaintiffs’ lawyers “to participate in a potentially riotous free-for-all over fault on behalf of an undifferentiated mass of unidentified plaintiffs,” the company’s lawyers wrote in a filing prior to today’s argument.
Halliburton Co., which provided the cementing services to the well, said it supported the trial-plan challenge.
“The current trial plan purports to address liability issues in isolation from actual claims and causation issues,” Donald Godwin, Halliburton’s lawyer, said in a Nov. 7 filing.
The state of Louisiana also opposes the nonjury trial plan, saying that it unfairly delays the progress of thousands of spill cases seeking compensation for economic damages.
The plan is flawed because it allows for the “sequencing of non-jury claims before jury claims,” Allan Kanner, a lawyer for the state, told the panel.
Lawyers for spill victims countered today that Cameron’s $250 million accord with BP wipes out any basis for its opposition to the trial plan.
The settlement means Cameron no longer has a “dog in this fight,” John deGravelles, a lawyer for spill victims, told the panel today.
Jeffrey Clark, a BP lawyer, told the judges the company argues there’s “no right to a jury trial” for liability issues being review under maritime law and that Barbier was “administering a complicated case admirably.”
The appeals case is In re: Cameron International, 11-30987, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The lawsuits are combined in In re Oil Spill by the Oil Rig Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, MDL-2179, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans).
--With assistance from Jef Feeley in Wilmington, Delaware. Editors: Mary Romano, Peter Blumberg
To contact the reporters on this story: Margaret Cronin Fisk in Southfield, Michigan, at email@example.com; Tom Korosec in Dallas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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