Federal oil spill lawsuits will be consolidated in New Orleans

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) has ordered hundreds of lawsuits filed against BP in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to be heard in New Orleans federal court. The decision represents a boon to plaintiffs and a drawback to the oil giant, who asked the cases be heard in oil-friendly Texas.

In May, BP asked the judicial panel to consolidate the lawsuits, then numbering nearly 100, under U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes of the Southern District of Texas in Houston. The Texas City serves as London-based BP’s North American headquarters, and is also the home city of Halliburton and scores of other oil and energy corporations.

The lawsuits now number more than 300 and have been filed in every Gulf Coast state by fishermen, charter boat companies, seafood companies, hotels, restaurants, and other tourism-related businesses.

Included among the lawsuits are wrongful death claims filed by family members of the 11 workers who were killed when the Deepwater Horizon exploded on April 20.

Some plaintiffs’ attorneys suggested the lawsuits be consolidated in Mobile, Alabama; Gulfport, Mississippi; or Miami, Florida. The panel chose New Orleans because it is the largest city near the spill site. Many of the most devastated shores and wetlands are located just a few miles south and east of the city.

The MDL panel was established in 1968 to decide if lawsuits filed in different federal districts have enough in common to be decided once and applied to all cases. The process allows a streamlining of the judicial process by exchanging evidence and avoiding redundancy. After pretrial proceedings are completed, the individual cases are returned to the courts where they were first filed for trial.

The representative MDL case for the oil spill lawsuits is In Re Oil Spill by the Oil Rig “Deepwater Horizon” in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, MDL Docket No. 2179.