Deepwater Horizon Update: Blowout Preventer Malfunction Discovered

The U.S. Department of Interior recently released a report showing the results of a federal investigation of the Deepwater Horizon blowout preventer (BOP). The Department of Interior hired a team of forensic experts to salvage the BOP from the gulf floor and to study the cause of its malfunction. According to the report, the BOP failed to close properly when a drill pipe buckled inside the device.

The report suggests that Cameron International, the company that built the Deepwater Horizon BOP, failed to design the BOP to handle extreme emergency situations. Cameron claims that they built the BOP pipe in accordance with industry standards.

Cameron’s compliance with industry standards may not insulate the contractor from liability. Government regulations only establish a minimum duty of care. In the past, courts have been reluctant to allow corporations to assert compliance with industry standards as a defense to products liability claims. For example, in a case involving asbestos and the Louisiana Products Liability Act, the Louisiana Fourth Circuit held that “mere compliance with federal standards or any other safety standards without more is not prima facie proof that a product is not dangerous or is no longer dangerous.” Asbestos v. Bordelon, Inc., 726 So. 2d 996 (La. App. 4 Cir 10/21/98). Similarly, in light of the Supreme Court’s recent holding in Williamson v. Mazda, companies still have a duty to take necessary safety precautions in designing and constructing products, regardless of minimum government safety regulations.

The Department of Interior’s findings could dramatically alter the allocation of liability among the responsible parties in the spill. The study’s results could affect the distribution of civil penalties between BP and its contractors. Furthermore, the findings may also shift the focus of the federal government’s ongoing criminal investigation into whether the parties’ willfully violated environmental and maritime laws.

Oil and gas companies rely on BOPs as the last resort in stopping uncontrollable wells. The report suggests that the Deepwater Horizon rig’s BOP failure may not be an isolated incident, leaving open the possibility that all BOPs may similarly malfunction in the event of a well blowout. According to The Times-Picayune, members of Congress have called for a study of all current BOPs in operating gulf wells.

If you are a loved one has been injured as a result of the Deepwater Horizon Gulf Oil Spill, you may have legal rights. Broussard, David & Moroux has experienced attorneys available to assist you in assessing your legal rights and claims. For further questions, contact Broussard, David & Moroux at 888-337-2323(toll free) or 337-233-2323 (local).

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