Environmental Exposure Law

The Potential Plaintiffs of the Gulf Oil Spill Lawsuits

The litigation floodgates have opened and lawsuits related to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico have begun. While the potential for litigation is great, so are the potential damages suffered by many of the plaintiffs. Of course, not all of the plaintiffs suffered the same damages and there are many different types of plaintiffs who will be filing lawsuits. Some may decide to band together and ask that their lawsuits be filed as class action lawsuits while others will pursue individual cases.
Potential Plaintiffs
Anyone who has suffered physical or financial losses because of an oil spill may be able to bring a lawsuit requesting damages against the companies responsible for the spill. In the case of the April 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the potential plaintiffs include:
  • The Family Members of the People Who Died in the Explosion. The Death on the High Seas Act may entitle family members of those who lost their lives in the accident to recover damages.
  • Anyone Injured in the Explosion. Maritime law allows people who were injured in the course of maritime employment to recover damages for their injuries.
  • Commercial Fishermen. Commercial fishermen may sue for lost income created by the unsafe conditions and the effect of the spill on the fish and shellfish of their region.
  • Charter Boat Captains and Resorts. These groups may be able to sue for lost income because tourists will not be spending their money to visit places effected by the oil spill.
  • Individual Property Owners. Property owners may sue for damage to their property, a decline in property value and loss of rental income.
  • State and Local Governments. State and local governments may be able to sue BP for financial damages incurred by the accident. Those damages may include things such as lost recreational boat fees and the costs of environmental cleanup efforts.
The Possibility of Class Action Lawsuits
A proposed class action lawsuit has already been filed with the Federal Court in Pensacola, Florida by commercial fishermen impacted by the oil spill in the Gulf. Other class action lawsuits by other groups of plaintiffs are likely to follow. Federal Courts are likely to approve these class action lawsuits against BP and other common defendants if:
·         The class of plaintiffs is so large that joinder of each plaintiff is impractical and representative litigation is feasible;
·         There are common questions of law or fact applicable to the class;
·         The claims of the representative plaintiffs are common to the other plaintiffs; and
·         The representatives will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.
Once the plaintiffs prove the elements above, a Federal Court should approve the class action if:
·         There is a risk of creating inconsistent rulings if a class action is not certified;
·         The defendant has acted in a way that applies generally to the whole class; and
·         The common questions of law or fact predominate over other issues.
Whether the plaintiffs described above, or others, decide to enter class action lawsuits or pursue individual lawsuits, the potential liability for BP is high and the need for recovery is expected to be great.