Said Uhlmann: “If the case goes well for the government, BP could pay more than $10 billion in civil penalties alone. And even if the government fares poorly, BP still will pay the largest civil penalties ever imposed under the environmental laws.”
People familiar with the settlement talks said that bridging the gap between BP and the states of Louisiana and Alabama would be difficult.
“There were too many actors with too many dollars in their eyes,” said one person familiar with talks that took place earlier, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private negotiations. He said that the states, “Louisiana in particular,” were “not the only obstacle but the main obstacle.”
Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell would not comment, but in a court filing the state said, “It is the State’s obligation . . . to protect the interests of its citizens.”
The plaintiffs’ attorneys are a who’s who of personal-injury and large-class-action lawyers who have brought lawsuits against corporations.
They include James Parkerson “Jim” Roy, who once won $43 million for a double amputee, and Robert T. “Bobo” Cunningham, who flew more than 500 missions as a Marine helicopter pilot in Vietnam. Cunningham was the lead trial counsel in the state of Alabama’s $11.9 billion verdict against Exxon Mobil for underpayment of royalties and in an environmental contamination trial that resulted in a $108 million jury verdict against Halliburton in 2007. Paul M. Sterbcow is a maritime and personal-injury lawyer representing 700 commercial divers, fishermen, crabbers, oystermen, deckhands, property owners and business owners.
BP’s team includes Covington & Burling’s Robert C. “Mike” Brock, who has defended pharmaceutical companies in product liability lawsuits, and Andrew Langan of Kirkland & Ellis. BP’s woes have helped bolster the firms. In 2011, Kirkland & Ellis’s profits topped $3 million per partner, up from $2.5 million the year before, according to the American Lawyer Web site.
“Gross negligence is a very high bar that BP believes cannot be met in this case,” BP general counsel Rupert Bondy said in a statement this past week. “This was a tragic accident, resulting from multiple causes and involving multiple parties. We firmly believe we were not grossly negligent.”
Jacobs, the AU professor, said BP will have trouble showing simple rather than gross negligence given past revelations. “If you’re driving down the road within the speed limit and don’t have ear buds in and you’re not texting, and you hit somebody you didn’t see, then you are liable for negligence,” he said. But it is gross negligence “if you are speeding and your ear buds are in and all the warning lights are going on on your dashboard and you ignore them. And that’s what was going on here.”