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Doyle Files Lawsuit Against BP Products North America on Behalf of Seaman Under General Maritime Law

On May 7, 2010, Doyle filed a lawsuit in Harris County district court against BP Products North America, Inc. on behalf of a surveyor injured in a ship-to-ship transfer off the coast of Panama. Doyle’s client is a Jones Act seaman and the lawsuit is based on well-settled general maritime law that BP Products North America owed the seaman a duty to provide a safe transfer, including an adequate and competent crew and proper equipment for the transfer. As a result of the faulty transfer, the seaman suffered serious injuries to his spine. Doyle specializes in Jones Act and other Maritime cases and is proud to enforce this injured worker’s rights.

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Punitive Damages in Maritime Law: Exxon Shipping v. Baker

A recently proposed piece of legislation would attempt to undo a Supreme Court decision limiting punitive damages available to plaintiffs who are harmed due to an oil spill. The 2008 decision was a result of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. Originally, the plaintiffs sued the Exxon Shipping Co. and were awarded $2.5 billion in punitive damages.

The defendant appealed to the Supreme Court, which decreased the amount of the award to $500 million. The court’s ruling imposes a 1-to-1 ratio of compensatory damages to punitive damages. The Exxon Shipping suit resulted in compensatory damages of just one-fifth the punitive damages awarded. The ruling was based on common law, but parts of the opinion suggest that the same result could have been reached based on constitutional grounds.

The proposed legislation would do away with the mandated ratio and allow litigants to obtain punitive damages without regard to the actual amount of compensatory damages. Legal scholars are unsure if Congress has the authority to put such a measure into action. Congress has authority to overturn the court’s ruling but may not be able to do so in this case for constitutional reasons.

Additionally, in light of the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, it is unclear if Congress could give the law retroactive effect, punishing those responsible. Often when a statute is enacted and results in monetary damages, the courts are unlikely to allow the law to be enforced against acts that occurred prior to the enactment.

Four senators have introduced the bill, but the Senate has not yet cast its vote. If it passes in the Senate, the bill must still pass through the House of Representatives as well as withstand legal attacks from the bill’s opponents before having any effect on those involved in the Deepwater Horizon rig explosions and the ensuing Gulf oil spill.

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Oil Spill Still Uncontained

Since late April, when the Deepwater Horizon suffered an explosion killing 11 and sinking the oil rig, BP has employed various strategies to stop oil from leaking into the Gulf of Mexico. None of those efforts have stopped the oil, which is now thought to be leaking at the rate of about 15,000 barrels per day. The most recent estimates are much higher than the 1,000 barrels per day originally suggested.

While the numbers are not certain, it is estimated that 20 to 30 million gallons have already leaked into the Gulf of Mexico. The wildlife, shipping industry, beaches and ecosystem of the southwest coasts of the United States are at risk of severe and permanent damage. To put that amount of oil into context, approximately 11 million gallons of oil were spilled during the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill.

BP’s first attempt to stop the leak was to cap the well with a four-story dome. Engineers attempted to install the dome 5,000 feet below the surface, but were unable to achieve their goal due to the depths of the water. Next, BP tried a “junk shot,” which involved shooting garbage and debris into the well to clog it and stop the leak. The junk shot, along with a second cap, were also unsuccessful.

The most recent attempt to cap the leaking well is called a top kill maneuver. This involves pumping a very thick drilling fluid into the well to plug it. Unfortunately, this method has not worked, either. The next step will be to attempt to cap the well once again, now that a riser pipe has been cut and severed from the well.

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Doyle Files Suit Against St. James Stevedoring

On September 3, 2010, Doyle filed suit in the Nueces County Court at Law against St. James Stevedoring on behalf of a deckhand injured off the coast of Texas. Doyle’s client is a Jones Act seaman and the lawsuit is based on the Jones Act and general maritime law which require that St. James Stevedoring owed the seaman a duty to provide a safe place to work, including a competent and adequately sized crew, proper equipment to complete the job, and a safe vessel. As a result of undermanning the vessel and not providing proper equipment for operations to save a damaged barge, the seaman suffered serious injuries to his back and leg. Doyle specializes in Jones Act and other Maritime cases and is proud to enforce this injured worker’s rights

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