Major Victory for Seacor in Connection with Deepwater Horizon Rig Explosion

Published Oct 28, 2011 4:39 PM by The Maritime Executive

Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP has won complete dismissal, with prejudice, of all claims brought against Seacor Holdings, Inc. and various of its subsidiaries, which own and operate marine vessels that responded to the emergency following the April 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig and resultant fire and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. 

A group of Louisiana landowners, commercial fishermen, and oil and gas industry employees brought suit against the owners and operators of the response vessels, alleging that the water they directed toward the fire caused the Deepwater Horizon rig to flood and sink, which in turn caused the riser pipe connected to the wellhead to collapse, resulting in the ensuing oil spill into the Gulf of Mexico that would become the worst in U.S. history.  Plaintiffs asserted claims for property damage and economic losses under general maritime law, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, and Louisiana state law.

In his October 12, 2011 ruling on the joint motion to dismiss filed by Seacor and other parties, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier of the Eastern District of Louisiana agreed with defendants’ argument and rejected plaintiffs’ claims that defendants should have known that attempting to cool the fire on the offshore rig would cause it to sink and then leak oil, finding that “a reasonable person in Defendants’ situation would not foresee that spraying water from one vessel onto another vessel in apparent hopes of extinguishing a fire would cause oil to discharge continuously from the latter vessel’s drill pipe, which would probably result in the economic and property damages allegedly incurred by onshore plaintiffs over fifty miles away.”  Further, the court noted that its decision was consistent with the long-embraced public policy under maritime law that encourages seamen to render prompt service in future emergencies, generally unknown in land-based common law.

The Weil team included Litigation partners Michael Lyle and Theodore Tsekerides and associates Eric Lyttle, Jeremy Grabill, Jaime Kaplan, and Sylvia Simson.