Will the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Trial be Delayed?

By Robyn Hagan Cain on December 16, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Cameron International Corporation (Cameron), one of the litigants in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill litigation, is asking the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider the scheduled nonjury trial in the matter, which is set to begin on February 27 in New Orleans. U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier is slated to preside.

Cameron, which designed and manufactured the blowout preventer used on the Deepwater Horizon rig, claims that a nonjury trial under the current plan would violate its constitutional rights.

The company says that "the proceeding envisioned by the district court's plan is not a 'trial' as it is known in Anglo-American law. Its three phases are reminiscent of the procedures followed by European courts in which the judges are active prosecutors in search of justice while the litigants are virtually bystanders," reports Bloomberg.

(Cameron has a point: Being a bystander in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill litigation would be almost as frustrating as being a bystander to the actual Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Almost.)

Instead of leaving its fate in Judge Barbier's hands, Cameron is requesting a jury trial.

Back in our law school days, our Louisiana Civil Procedure professor explained that every plaintiff in America wants a jury trial in New Orleans because New Orleans jurors view a trial, much like they view a Mardi Gras parade, as a chance to toss doubloons to an adoring crowd.

In other words, New Orleans jury awards tend to be generous.

We don't understand why any of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill litigants would choose a trial with New Orleans jurors over a nonjury trial with Judge Barbier, who has already rejected a number of state and local governments' damage claims against the Deepwater defendants; we suspect that the plaintiffs would do rather well arguing this case to a jury.

In fact, BP's lawyers were concerned about the exact same issue last year, when they asked for the case to be tried in Houston, far away from the reach of New Orleans jurors.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments in Cameron's nonjury trial challenge on December 22.

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