The Deepwater Horizon oil spill began on April 20, 2010, and resulted in the discharge of nearly 5 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Court proceedings are still underway to determine the extent to which BP and other oil companies must take financial responsibility for the damages caused by this disaster. Along with the costs of cleanup and remediation, environmental damage and losses sustained by companies dependent on fishing and tourism have been estimated at close to $4 billion. Currently, BP is facing a maximum $13.7 billion fine in addition to the damages the company has already paid out.
Penalty phase maneuvers
The Justice Department has already presented its case in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. The proceedings are being presided over by Judge Carl J. Barbier, who has attracted some controversy due to accusations by BP attorneys that Barbier has been biased against their company in determining settlement amounts for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The penalty phase currently underway will decide the amount of the Clean Water Act fines BP must pay to the federal government. BP is arguing that its efforts to clean up the beaches and to provide remedies for wildlife affected by the spill should be taken into consideration when assessing fines associated with Deepwater Horizon.
Expert witnesses to take the stand
BP’s selection of expert witnesses serves as proof that legal proceedings do indeed make strange bedfellows. BP has retained the services of expert witnesses in the fields of marine biology, socioeconomics, naval architecture, and medicine to provide testimony regarding the ongoing effects of the disaster on local populations, economies, and wildlife along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Through depositions and appearances, these witnesses are expected to provide testimony to counter federal allegations about the health risks and environmental damage caused by the Deepwater Horizon spill.
The importance of expert witnesses
The opinions of the expert witnesses called by BP and by the Justice Department are likely to have a significant impact on the ruling reached by Judge Barbier and the size of the fines assessed to BP and the other companies involved in the disaster. Expert witnesses are a critical resource for attorneys on both sides of the aisle and can deliver credible information in their fields of expertise for jurors to evaluate. Most expert witnesses hold advanced degrees and have impressive credentials in their chosen fields. In the BP case specifically, the testimony provided by these professionals may be the determining factor in the size of the fines imposed by the judge on behalf of the Justice Department.
The full impact of the Deepwater Horizon environmental disaster may not be fully understood for decades. For BP and the other oil companies involved in civil litigation, however, the financial impact will be determined in part by the in-person testimony and depositions provided by expert witnesses.