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Wrongful Death and Environmental Cases to be Heard in Louisiana

Many of the legal proceedings related to the BP/Transocean oil spill appear to be headed to a federal court in the Eastern District of Louisiana. In late July, a group of seven judges making up the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation met in Boise, Idaho, and decided that the most appropriate forum for the various lawsuits would be a federal court in New Orleans.

Not every case arising out of the oilrig explosion and resulting oil spill will be coming to Louisiana, but so far, it appears that the wrongful death cases, the claims for economic damages, the natural resource and environmental claims, and other personal injury claims will be heard by Judge Carl J. Barbier of the Eastern District of Louisiana.

This decision may be a benefit to Louisiana in a number of ways. First, it will allow many potential plaintiffs to participate in legal proceedings without having to travel as far as they would to attend other courts. Many cases have been brought in Houston, which may have been more convenient for those in Western Louisiana, but it appears the panel of judges, at least in part, made their decision on New Orleans, because they felt it was geographically and psychologically the center of the disaster for most of those affected.

While it most likely wasn’t part of the judges’ decision, moving the cases to New Orleans may be an economic bonus for the region as well. With the transfer of various legal matters comes the economic benefit of hosting the legal plaintiffs, lawyers, and others that will be in the city to participate in the proceedings. Legal teams will most likely have to rent office space downtown, which will bring more money into one of the areas that has suffered because of the oil spill.

One final reason for the transfer of the cases seems to be that the judges felt having most cases heard in New Orleans would help in administering claims to be paid through BP’s $20 billion escrow fund. Kenneth Feinberg, the special master administering the fund, should be able to handle many claims, but others may have to be heard by Judge Barbier.

In our next post, we will discuss some other issues surrounding the transfer of cases to New Orleans including the Maritime law issues surrounding Transocean’s attempt to limit their liability for the oil spill.

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