New surge in civil lawsuits tied to Deepwater Horizon spill: study
A recent increase of filed federal civil environmental lawsuits is stemming from new decisions and settlements made related to the Deepwater Horizon lawsuit in Louisiana, according to a report released Wednesday.
During the last quarter, which ended in January, 745 civil environmental lawsuits were filed in federal court, a big jump from the 198 suits filed the previous quarter, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University.
That data shows an overall 276 percent increase in civil environmental lawsuits filed in the four-month period. In January of this year alone, 172 cases were filed, according to the study.
The majority of the cases in the past quarter were driven by litigation in the Eastern District of Louisiana following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the study found.
The 2010 disaster in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 workers on the rig, which was leased to oil and gas giant BP at the time, and ultimately released 4.9 million barrels of oil into the ocean over an 87-day period. The catastrophe has cost BP more than $60 billion.
While the disaster occurred nearly a decade ago, the litigation process has been slow. Funds from BP’s 2016 settlement first became available last April to states affected by the spill. So far this year, the court has released orders on a number of medical benefits settlements and damages claims.
The report also found that nearly half of all of the federal civil environmental litigation filed either between companies, against the government or by the government between 2014 and end of January 2018 were filed in the same district in Louisiana.
“Clearly rulings and setting deadlines to do things generates activity,” said TRAC’s director, Susan Long, of the Deepwater Horizon new court settlements. “It’s not hard because this is a multi-district litigation. There are lots of parties here. It’s just huge litigation — as you can see you can really drive the numbers. Initially we said, ‘Oh wow [lawsuits are] up,’ and then we looked to see what accounted for it.”
The report found that when taking out the environmental litigation stemming from the Louisiana gulf spill, federal civil environmental suits filed have actually steadily dropped overall from their height in the October 2016 quarter.