US Deepwater Horizon exploision & oil spill Lawsuits - Health of residents

Health of residents

On 26 July 2010, a class action lawsuit was filed against BP and chemical dispersant maker Nalco in a US federal court in Alabama.  Plaintiffs are residents and property owners along the Gulf Coast; the proposed class for the action includes persons who live, travel or work in the area and who have suffered or will suffer from the effects of the use of chemicals in the remediation efforts.  The plaintiffs allege that BP dumped over one million gallons of toxic dispersant chemical in the water and land along Alabama’s coast in order to force the oil to the bottom of the Gulf, thereby making it a permanent part of the seabed and food chain of the Gulf of Mexico.  BP’s alleged purpose was to lessen its financial burden and the public reaction to the oil spill.  One of the chemicals used, Corexit, is manufactured by Nalco, and is allegedly four times more toxic than oil.  Plaintiffs state that it is illegal in the United Kingdom because of its harmful effects on food chains and people who inhale it or eat food that contains it.

The complaint alleges that the defendants’ negligence resulted in exposure to hazardous chemicals, causing injuries.  The plaintiffs make further claims against the companies for harms arising out of the continued presence of chemicals in and on their bodies and properties.  They seek compensation for bodily injury, emotional distress, property damage and punitive damages.  They also seek the creation of a medical monitoring programme to address the alleged heightened risk of serious health complications due to exposure to the chemicals.  They are seeking the establishment of a trust fund to pay for the medical costs, written notification to all members of the class that they have been exposed to toxic chemicals and information and training to physicians to help them detect related illnesses.

A spokesperson for BP declined to comment on the lawsuit, but emphasised that the use of dispersants was approved by the U.S. National Incident Command and Environmental Protection Agency.  Nalco has not commented directly on the lawsuit, but has issued a statement rejecting claims that COREXIT has adverse health effects.  The case has been included in the federal Multidistrict Litigation consolidated proceedings.

Proceedings on health of residents following consolidation

On 15 December 2010, the claims of coastal residents for injuries allegedly suffered due to chemical exposure were consolidated in a master complaint filed in US federal court in New Orleans.  On 26 May 2011, BP, Anadarko, MOEX, Nalco and other defendant companies moved to dismiss personal injury claims of all residents, alleging immunity under the Clean Water Act (CWA).  Nalco, which made the dispersant used on the spilled oil, argued that plaintiffs’ claim cannot proceed because the US government approved the use of dispersants.  In response, the Plaintiffs Steering Committee argued that the defendants cannot claim immunity from lawsuits under the CWA because the CWA only applies to damages arising from actions of the US government.

On 3 Mar 2012, BP announced an out of court settlement with the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee.  BP is to pay $7.8 billion to settle private plaintiffs’ claims for economic loss, property damage & injuries.

- "BP Reaches Estimated $7.8 Billion Deal With Spill Victims", Jef Feeley, Bloomberg, 5 Mar 2012
- "Oil Spill Hearing to Focus on Sickness and Other Claims BP Wants to Dismiss", Sabrina Canfield, Courthouse News Services, 26 May 2011
- “BP sued over dispersant used on spill”, Rowena Mason, Telegraph [UK], 7 Aug 2010
- ”Gulf Coast Residents File Personal Injury Suit Over Oil Dispersant”, Tresa Baldas, National Law Journal [USA], 29 Jul 2010

Legal documents

- US District Court for Eastern District of Louisiana: [PDF] Omnibus Memorandum in Opposition to Motions to Dismiss Bundle B3 Master Complaint, 30 Mar 2011
- US District Court for Southern District of Alabama: [PDF] Complaint: Wright v. BP, Nalco, 26 Jul 2010