Articles Posted in Environmental Liability/Toxic Torts

A class-action suit has been filed against Blue Bell Creameries relating to the listeria outbreak in their products.  The event lead to a product recall in March.

Steven J. Leon, of Hammond, Louisiana, brought a class-action suit against the company, alleging negligence, redhibition, breach of warranty, and unjust enrichment.  The suit’s putative class consists of upwards of 100 members and the amount in controversy exceeds $5 million.

The accompanying complaint posits that consumers who purchased Blue Bell products between March 13 and April 20 are entitled to damages because Blue Bell purportedly failed to provide adequate notice of the recall.  The recall was posted on the Blue Bell website on or about March and April, but, according to the suit, the company had had positive test results for a potentially lethal bacterium since 2013.

A family is suing BP for the wrongful death of their father as a result of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Incident.  Nedjelka Mjehovic, Vlaho Mjehovic and Borislava Mjehovic have accused BP of negligence that resulted in the wrongful death of their father, Miro Mjehovic, filing suit on his behalf.

Detailed in the complaint, Miro was the captain of a vessel that performed clean-up duties under the direction of BP.  Miros was employed by U.S. Maritime Services of New Orleans but was hired by BP following the Deepwater Horizon Incident.  He was performing his duties off the coast of St. Bernard parish and Plaquemines parish when he came into dermal and airborne contact with crude oil containing volatile compounds which, according to the plaintiffs, are widely regarded as toxic and carcinogenic.  As a result of this alleged contact, Miro developed dermal, respiratory, and cardiopulmonary complications culminating in acquired hemophilia, which he died from in 2012 despite medical care.

In their complaint, the Mjehovics state that their father should have been better protected from hazardous chemical exposure and that BP should have taken such precautions.  The suit claims breach of duty and three counts of negligence, stemming from failure to prevent the Deepwater Horizon explosion, failure to cap the Macondo well properly, and failure to warn personnel and properly equip employees.

Many of us have undoubtedly taken advantage of the recent low gas prices. At well under $2.00/gallon in January and February, gasoline consumption has skyrocketed. And as we flock in droves to our local gas stations, we expect properly working equipment; we expect safeguards. But, sometimes, these safeguards fail, exposing gas station customers to a multitude of dangers. In a recent lawsuit filed against Brothers Belle Chasse LLC and Exxon Mobil Corporation, a Terrytown man allegedly received several injuries sustained while pumping gas at the iconic “Brothers” gas station. As the petition sets forth, the plaintiff was pumping gas when the gas hose ruptured, spraying gasoline on him. The injuries primarily complained of are the alleged result of gasoline making contact with his left eye.

Such malfunctions occur when the gas station owners, managers, and attendants fail to properly maintain the protective safeguards of gas stations as required by law, oftentimes resulting in injury. In this particular instance of the Terrytown Brothers gas station, the plaintiff is alleging the gas stations’ “fail[ure] to correct a hazard, creating a dangerous condition, failing to adequately inspect and failing to warn customers.” As illustrated by this case, individuals responsible for maintain a safe environment at gas stations must adhere to regulations, and must make the effort to ensure that their stations are always operating in a safe manner.

The attorneys at Broussard & David have the knowledge and experience necessary to handle cases of this nature and will fight to obtain fair compensation for your injuries. If you or a loved one has suffered harm as a result of another’s negligence, contact the attorneys at Broussard & David to discuss your legal rights at (337) 233-2323 (local) or (888) 337-2323 (toll-free).

On February 2nd, after two long years of litigation, the final phase of the BP oil spill trial finally saw its last day in court. This last phase—the penalty phase—served as a chance for attorneys representing both sides to argue for reduction or expansion of BP’s potential fines under the Clean Water Act.

Presiding Judge Carl Barbier of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana limited the amount of potential fines by potentially billions of dollars when he found the size of the spill to be 3.19 million barrels instead of the federal government’s estimate of 4.09 million barrels. This difference represented up to $17.6 billion in fines.

Despite this, Judge Barbier’s ruling on the merits—that BP was “grossly negligent”—bumped their potential liability far beyond the liability under a finding of ordinary negligence. Specifically, a finding a “gross negligence” opened BP up to a statutory maximum of $4,300 for each barrel spilled.

Back in October, we wrote about an ongoing lawsuit filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority against eighty-eight oil and gas companies operating off the Louisiana coast. Last Friday, February 13, 2015, this lawsuit saw its final days in court, as Federal Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown dismissed the lawsuit under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for the plaintiff’s failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

The Levee Authority filed this lawsuit ostensibly under its authority to “ensure the physical and operational integrity of the regional flood risk management system.” Their central contention was that the defendant oil and gas companies’ operations “have led to coastal erosion in the Buffer Zone, making south Louisiana more vulnerable to severe weather and flooding.” The Buffer Zone is an area in which the defendant oil companies currently operate and extends from the Mississippi River “through the Breton Sound Basin, the Biloxi Marsh, and the coastal wetlands of eastern New Orleans and up to Lake St. Catherine.”

The Levee Authority’s specific claims were that the defendants dredged a network of access canals for transportation of oil and gas products, which killed off much of the vegetation, caused sedimentation inhibition, erosion, and subsequent submergence of coastal land. Additionally, the Levee Authority claimed that the defendant oil companies failed to properly maintain the access channels and canals, which exacerbated erosion of canal banks, creating wider, deeper canals than permitted.

Operating in violation of both the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA), ATP Infrastructure Partners LP (ATP-IP) has agreed to pay a $1 million civil penalty to settle a federal lawsuit over illegal discharges of oil and chemicals from an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico.

The lawsuit, instituted by the United States, was resolved by way of joint judicial enforcement action involving the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), and the Justice Department.

In its complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, the United States alleged that ATP-IP “violated Section 311(b)(3) of the CWA when oil and other pollutants were discharged into the Gulf of Mexico from the ATP Innovator.” Violation of this provision in the CWA opened up ATP-IP to possible civil penalties. The United States also urged that ATP-IP was liable for injunctive relief under OCSLA, “as the owner of the ATP Innovator … [for] hidden piping configuration [that] was being used to inject a chemical dispersant into the facility’s wastewater discharge outfall pipe to mask excess amounts of oil being discharged into the ocean.”

As Halloween approaches, I’m reminded of a story I was told growing up–a story that has spread like wildfire and survived the ages. It’s the story of a young child, happily trick-or-treating in his neighborhood and too fixated on his chocolate, sugary boon to care about any potential for harm. As the young child explores his neighborhood, bouncing from home-to-home, he approaches one residence that has opted to hand over candied apples to its trick-or-treaters instead of candy. The young child approaches the home, receives his candied apple in exchange for his promise not to “trick” and then scampers off to his next target home. Later that night, inspecting his bounty, the young child discovers a razor blade in his candied apple–a razor blade that, had he bitten down on it, would’ve caused him serious injury. Those of you reading this are tempted to relegate this story to “urban legend” status, a story designed to scare children into safer Halloween habits. However, I instead encourage you to think about this scenario as a basic, yet well-recognized example, of Products Liability law.

The area of tort law known as Products Liability deals with rights, duties, obligations, and standards associated with the distribution and safety of products. That is, manufacturers are liable for the personal injury or other damage caused by their defective product. Intuitive as it may sound, this was not always the case. Before Louisiana extended this right to injured plaintiffs–the right to seek remuneration for personal injuries caused by defective products–courts often denied injured plaintiffs’ claims due to the legal doctrine of “privity of contract.” Under this doctrine, courts conceived products liability to be a contractual matter, and recovery against the seller was rooted in contractual remedies. Accordingly, this “privity” required that the defendant-manufacturer be a party to the contract of sale in order to provide remedies outside of the law of contracts. Since manufacturers rarely sell their products directly to customers, but instead sell them to retailers who distribute them to the public, manufacturers were often shielded from liability.

Gradually, the conception that products liability was restricted to the realm of contracts started to erode. For example, the Restatement of Torts adopted a provision “providing limited strict liability of the manufacturer of a product for the personal injury damages caused by a defect in the product.” This approach to products liability was later adopted by the Louisiana Supreme Court in Weber v. Fidelity & Cas. Ins. Co. of NY, 250 So. 2d 754 (La. 1971), which provided for manufacturers’ strict liability in tort for their defective/injurious products.

LAFAYETTE – Broussard and David Law Firm held a grand opening ceremony on Wednesday, October 15th, in honor of their recent move to a new location. Their new offices are located in the heart of downtown Lafayette on the corner of Jefferson Street and Vermilion Street in the historic Moss Building (557 Jefferson Street).

A crowd gathered to help Fr. Hampton Davis bless the new building. A ribbon cutting ceremony and reception followed in conjunction with the Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours event. Guests were able to tour the newly renovated building and learn about the history of its presence in downtown Lafayette.

For the last 200 years, the site of the historic “Moss Building” was the epicenter of local activity in a growing Lafayette. Today, the Moss Building plays an important role, once again, as downtown Lafayette enjoys a renewed vitality. Blake David, partner at the law firm, says that “Broussard and David was eager to invest in an opportunity to restore one of Lafayette’s landmarks and is committed to enhancing the downtown community so that it is a great place to live, work and play.”

On July 24, 2013, the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (Authority) filed suit against 97 oil, gas, and pipeline companies for their alleged contribution to the continuing diminution of Louisiana’s wetlands. This historic lawsuit demands that these companies immediately restore damage to the wetlands, arguing that the Authority’s flood protection system formed by the wetlands “guards millions of people and billions of dollars’ worth of property in south Louisiana from destructive floodwaters.” A 1996 study concluded that the energy industry was both directly and indirectly responsible for 36 percent of wetland loss in Southeastern Louisiana, and more recent studies have apportioned even higher percentages of the loss to the oil and gas industry. This, together with the Authority’s concern that they wouldn’t have adequate resources to operate and maintain the levees when they were handed over to local levee district by the Army Corps of Engineers, prompted the Authority to file suit.

Since its filing, this lawsuit has polarized Louisianans. Hours after suit was initially filed, Governor Bobby Jindal issued a response claiming that the Authority didn’t have the right to file suit without his approval. Governor Jindal also attacked the lawsuit as a “hijacking” of the issue by trial lawyers “who see dollar signs in their future and who are taking advantage of people who want to restore Louisiana’s coast.” On the other side of the debate, Democratic lawmakers seemed to back the lawsuit, finding Governor Jindal’s concerns unfounded and adverse to Louisiana’s legitimate interest in being a steward of its local environment.

In response to this lawsuit, the Louisiana legislature passed Act 544 which expressly strips State and local government entities of any “right or cause of action arising from any activity subject to permitting” under certain Louisiana and Federal law. That is, Act 544 would preclude the Authority’s suit against the oil companies’ activities, at least under the auspices of a local government entity. In written motions, the Authority seeks to have Act 544 declared unconstitutional. This lawsuit has since been removed to Federal Court in New Orleans, where the next ruling will determine whether Act 544 applies to the levee Authority.

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.

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