Articles Posted in Class Action

Almost two weeks have passed since Judge Carl Barbier handed down his blistering opinion apportioning a majority of the fault to BP for the 2010 Gulf oil spill. As a follow-up to last week’s article, which detailed Judge Barbier’s ruling, we aim to dig deeper: Judge Barbier found that BP’s “gross” negligence opens them up to enhanced civil penalties under the Clean Water Act (CWA). But what does this mean for BP? Was this the right result?

The Ruling

The thrust of Judge Barbier’s opinion was to apportion fault, or responsibility, for the harrowing 87-day oil spill which followed Deepwater Horizon’s explosion. As we noted in last week’s article, Judge Barbier found BP 67 percent at fault for the spill and reserved only 30 percent and 3 percent for Transocean and Halliburton, respectively. Importantly, and the subject of this week’s in-depth look at his ruling, Judge Barbier found that BP’s “gross negligence” and “willful misconduct” opens them up to enhanced civil penalties under the Clean Water Act. Under the CWA, where a “person” causes a hazardous oil spill in navigable waters of the United States, and where this spill is the “result of gross negligence or willful misconduct… the person shall be subject to a civil penalty of not less than $100,000, and not more than $3,000 per barrel of oil or unit of reportable quantity of hazardous substance discharged.” 33 U.S.C. §1321(b)(7)(D). As Judge Barbier notes, this enhanced penalty provision does not require any “specific level of corporate management,” but instead opens up enhanced penalties to entities who violate this provision of the Clean Water Act whether it’s the result of systemic, gross negligence or not.

In a recent ruling handed down in Federal District Court in New Orleans, Federal District Judge Carl Barbier assigned the majority of the responsibility to BP for the 2010 explosion of Deepwater Horizon. Judge Barbier found the discharge of oil to be the result of BP’s “gross negligence” and “willful misconduct” under the Clean Water Act, which subjects BP to enhanced civil penalties. The ruling found BP responsible for 67 percent of the blowout, explosion, and subsequent oil spill, while the remaining percentage was divided among Transocean and Halliburton at 30 percent and 3 percent, respectively.

“BP’s conduct was reckless. Transocean’s conduct was negligent. Halliburton’s conduct was negligent,” wrote District Judge Barbier in his 153-page ruling.

While it has been estimated that BP could face fines of up to $18 billion, the Judge’s ruling noted that BP cannot be held liable for additional punitive damages under general maritime law. Usually, general maritime law which permits the imposition of punitive damages for reckless, willful, and wanton conduct. However, due to a unique jurisdictional rule in Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi, the imposition of punitive damages under general maritime law has been severely limited, though not entirely abandoned. Indeed, punitive damages are still available for reckless, wanton conduct in the Fifth Circuit, though, the bar is much higher. In addition to proving the defendant’s “reckless, willful, and wanton conduct,” an award of punitive damages must also demonstrate systemic recklessness. “The maritime rule in the Fifth Circuit is generally insufficient to visit punitive damages upon the employer. Rather, the conduct must emanate from corporate policy or that a corporate official with policy-making authority participated in, approved of, or subsequently ratified the egregious conduct,” the ruling states. In the absence of such a corporate policy, Judge Barbier found that BP cannot be held liable for punitive damages under general maritime law. BP plans to appeal the decision.

A jury in Lafayette has awarded $1.5 million in compensatory damages and $9 billion in punitive damages to a former user of the Actos diabetes medication after the jury determined that the drug was linked to the plaintiff’s bladder cancer. Both defendants, Takeda Pharmaceuticals Co. and Eli Lilly & Co., insists that their medication is safe and they plan to appeal the jury’s verdict. The plaintiff began taking Actos in 2006 to treat his Type 2 diabetes until 2011, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration placed a warning on the medication’s labels stating that use of the drug for more than a year increases the risk of bladder cancer. The trial also featured Takeda officials destroying pertinent documents about the development and marketing of Actos, which prompted sanctions from U.S. District Judge Rebecca Doherty.

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A class action suit seeking over $2 million in damages alleges that Henderson police officers were paid to ticket motorists along I-10 under an illegal ticket quote system. The suit alleges that these police officers were paid $15 for every ticket issued to drivers on I-10 and that some of these officers were issuing tickets on the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge, which is outside of their jurisdiction. Criminal charges of public payroll fraud, filing false public records, and malfeasance were filed against the town’s police chief and his assistant. They both pleaded not guilty to the charges.

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A Vermillion Parish jury awarded $5.1 million to Cow Island residents to help pay for the cleanup of soil and groundwater heavily contaminated with arsenic. The case arose after a Cow Island resident was diagnosed with cancer, making him the second in his rectory to be diagnosed with the deadly disease. A quick test of the water wells in the area found a level of arsenic that grossly exceeded the maximum levels allowed in drinking water. Richard Broussard, an attorney from Broussard & David and one of the lead attorneys in this case, stated that the contamination was a result of cattle dipping vats being poured on the ground for decades.

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Toyota will pay $1.1 billion to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by millions of car owners. In the suit, car owners alleged they suffered economic loss from negative publicity associated with reports of sudden unintended acceleration in their Toyota and Lexus vehicles.

This lawsuit is one of the first class action suits of its kind because the class did not pursue personal injury or products liability claims. This settlement agreement will affect 16 million owners of Toyota and Lexus cars. The news of Toyota’s willingness to pay this large settlement on economic claims alone may also be a good predictor of Toyota’s intent to settle any personal injury or products liability claims in the future.

Before joining a class action lawsuit, it is important to consider several factors relating to your participation in the suit. A primary benefit of class action litigation is that it can reduce litigation expenses for the individual. In a class action lawsuit, several people share the costs of litigation. Bringing a class action lawsuit can also be a more efficient use of court resources and can ease proof of a defendant’s liability.

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A federal judge gave final approval to a $37.5 million settlement between the manufacturers of FEMA trailers and storm victims who used the trailers following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. This class of 55,000 plaintiffs claimed they were exposed to formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, while living in the trailers.

In a toxic tort lawsuit, an individual seeks compensation for injuries, health problems or death resulting from dangerous exposure to toxins or hazardous materials. An individual can bring a toxic tort claim as a single plaintiff or as multiple plaintiffs through a class action lawsuit.

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GlaxoSmithKline will pay $3 billion dollars, the biggest single settlement of health fraud in U.S. history, for the unlawful marketing of two drugs and failing to provide necessary information to the Food and Drug Administration.

The drug company admitted to falsely representing that certain drugs, such as Paxil and Wellbutrin, were approved to treat issues beyond the drugs’ FDA approval. A United States attorney called the settlement “unprecedented in both size and scope.”

Broussard & David represents clients who are injured by dangerous drugs. Our attorneys have experience taking on large corporations and fighting for the rights of injured consumers. An experienced lawyer can analyze the facts and circumstances surrounding your case and determine whether you have a successful claim against a pharmaceutical company. Products liability law provides theories for recovery in pharmaceutical litigation. In a typical lawsuit against a pharmaceutical company, an injured group of consumers intends to hold a negligent manufacturer legally responsible for their common injuries caused by their dangerous drug.

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ExxonMobil estimates that it accidentally released 28,700 pounds of naphtha at its Baton Rouge site June 14. Naptha contains the hazardous chemical benzene, a carcinogen recognized by the EPA. When ExxonMobil first reported the release to the state Department of Environmental Quality last week, it only reported a 10-pound spill.

Benzene is a hazardous, colorless liquid chemical that is quickly absorbed by the air. Benzene is an ingredient in gasoline, crude oil and cigarette smoke. Short-term inhalation can cause dizziness, headaches, nausea, convulsions and unconsciousness. Long-term inhalation or ingestion can lead to blood disorders and certain cancers.

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Three bills addressing lead contamination in schools, day care centers and playgrounds passed in the Louisiana Legislature last week. Upon the governor’s signature, Senate Bills 200, 201 and 211 will require new schools, day care centers and playgrounds to be inspected for lead contamination. The inspection results will then be publicly posted online. The bills also require agencies to publicly reveal federal lead contamination standards.

Lead poisoning is more pervasive than we perceive. Before 1978, when Congress outlawed the use of lead in construction, contractors commonly used lead in pipes and paint in homes, buildings and playgrounds. Unfortunately, the harmful effects of lead contamination continue to linger today in our buildings, water, air and soil, often affecting children. In fact, each year in the United States, approximately 310,000 children, ages 1 to 5, are found to have dangerous levels of lead in their blood.

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