Die nachfolgend beschriebene Klage gegen BP ist insoweit erwähnenswert, als sich dieses Verfahren nun mit der Thematik Strafschadensersatz / Punitive Damages auseinandersetzen muss. Im Exxon Valdez Fall wurde in letzter Instanz ein solcher nicht zuerkannt. Der 20 USD Mrd Fund von BP zur Begleichung der Schäden umfasst keine Punitive Damages Ansprüche und könnte , wenn es zukünftig Urteile gegen BP gäbe, die Punitive Damages enthalten, ein schwerer finanzieller Schlag für BP sein. Die bisherigen eingeplanten Schadenskosten könnten sich leicht verdoppeln (und dann den Aktienkurs wieder auf Talfahrt schicken).
Oil spill class action calls for punitive damages
August 22, 2010 , By Rebecca Mowbray, The Times-Picayune
A class-action lawsuit filed Friday in U.S. District Court in New Orleans charges that BP and other companies involved in drilling the ill-fated Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico should be held liable for punitive damages.
The suit on behalf of Corliss Gallo, a Grand Terre Island landowner whose property was degraded by the oil leak and trampled by cleanup workers, says that the „outrageous conduct“ by BP, Transocean Ltd., Cameron International and Halliburton represents „a common thread of gross negligence and willful, wanton and reckless indifference for the rights of others.“
The suit, believed to be the first to tackle the controversial question of punitive damages, seeks to test an opening left by the landmark 2008 U.S. Supreme Court decision that knocked down the punitive damages in the Exxon Valdez oil spill case in Alaska.
After an Alaska jury in 1994 awarded fishers and others suing Exxon $5 billion in punitive damages, a series of court rulings culminating in the Supreme Court decision reduced the payment to $507.5 million, an amount equal to the actual damages awarded. The tanker struck a reef in Prince William Sound in 1989.
The Supreme Court said that a 1-to-1 ratio of punitive to compensatory damages was „a fair upper limit“ in maritime cases. However, in its opinion, the Supreme Court left open the possibility that in the case of reckless profiteering, punitive damages could rise to as much as three times the actual damages caused, the level set by law in some states.
In its opinion, the Supreme Court noted that the behavior of the Valdez captain, who was fatigued and possibly drunk, was „worse than negligent but less than malicious“ because his actions didn’t increase Exxon’s profits.
In discussing situations where a 3-to-1 punitive damage ratio might be warranted, the Supreme Court noted that there could be „quite different cases involving some of the most egregious conduct, including malicious behavior and dangerous activity carried on for the purpose of increasing a (defendant’s) financial gain.“
Dawn Barrios, the New Orleans maritime attorney who filed the Gallo case, believes the BP oil disaster fits the exception.
The suit she filed Friday weaves together early findings of Coast Guard and congressional hearings on the Deepwater Horizon explosion and resulting oil spill to paint a picture of companies that knowingly took risks and failed to fix equipment because they were too intent on making a buck.
„Punitive damages are going to be a critical component of this litigation because the behavior was so egregious, and the Feinberg fund is not going to cover punitive damages,“ Barrios said, referring to the $20 billion BP compensation fund administered by Washington lawyer Kenneth Feinberg at the behest of the Obama administration.
In filing the case, Barrios is joined by Elizabeth J. Cabraser, the San Francisco attorney who was co-lead counsel representing plaintiffs in the Exxon Valdez suit.
The Gallo case is expected to get rolled into the litigation over the BP oil disaster that has been consolidated before Judge Carl Barbier, Barrios said. Barbier is likely to subdivide the massive case into different tracks, such as personal injury, natural resource damages, economic injury damages, racketeering charges and punitive damages.