No Liability in Effort to Put Out Oil Rig Fire

     NEW ORLEANS (CN) – A federal judge has dismissed claims brought by a group of 66 fishermen, oilmen and property owners who sought damages from the vessels that responded first to the Deepwater Horizon rig after an explosion caused it to catch fire.
     The plaintiffs alleged that the force of the water sprayed on the Deepwater Horizon by the responding vessels ultimately caused the oil to gush into the Gulf of Mexico and caused the rig to sink.
     On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon rig burned and sank 50 miles offshore of Louisiana, killing 11 people and causing the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Six boats responded to the emergency by spraying water at the rig in an attempt to extinguish the fire.
     The plaintiffs’ complaint said: “As the defendants’ fire boats continued to blast water on the rig, its upper compartments began to fill, resulting in a shift of the center of gravity of the rig. This caused the Deepwater Horizon to turn on its pontoons. As a result of the flooding of the rig by the fireboats, the rig began to sink. When the rig turned and began to sink, the pipe connected to the wellhead collapsed and fell to the sea floor.’
     It went on to state that the responding boats had acted “independent of the fire and are separate and distinct causes of the resulting mega-spill of oil.”
     U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier disagreed with the allegation that the vessels should have known that spraying water at the mobile offshore drilling unit for 36 hours could cause the rig to sink, and that its uncapped riser pipe could leak tremendous amounts of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
     He dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims on Wednesday, writing that, while it was likely foreseeable that spraying water on the rig would damage the rig, it was not foreseeable that by spraying water the responding boats would cause a catastrophic flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
     “Here the general sort of harm allegedly suffered by persons in the general class of claimants … would not have been anticipated by a reasonably thoughtful person in defendants’ position, as a probable result of a negligent act, considering the interplay of natural forces and likely human intervention,” Barbier wrote.
     “Even assuming defendants’ actions fell below the standard of care, a reasonable person in defendants’ situation would not foresee that spraying water from one vessel onto another vessel in apparent hopes of extinguishing a fire would cause oil to discharge continuously from the latter vessel’s drill pipe, which would probably result in the economic and property damages allegedly incurred by onshore plaintiffs over fifty miles away,” he added.
     Spraying water on a vessel would like cause damage to the vessel, but the defendants could not assume that the water would cause the oil to spew into the water.
     “Additionally, the court notes that maritime salvage law has long embraced a public policy encouraging seamen to render prompt service in future emergencies, which is generally unknown in land-based common law,” he wrote.
     The plaintiffs’ complaint was part of the B4 pleading bundle in the ongoing oil spill litigation.
     Judge Barbier’s order dismissed all B4 claims, with the exception of the claims brought by one plaintiff. “This order does not affect the personal injury claim of DuWayne Mason, an alleged member of the crew of the M/V Seacor Vanguard, which defendant Seacor specifically excepted from the motion to dismiss,” the order states.
     The motion to dismiss was filed by Seacor Holdings, Inc., Seacor Offshore LLC, Seacor Marine, LLC, Seacor Worldwide Inc., Siemens Financial Inc., Island Ventures II LLC, Nautical Solutions LLC, Monica Ann LLC, JNB Operating LLC, and Gulf Offshore Logistics LLC.
     The first oil spill trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 27, 2012, in New Orleans.

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