Trials & Litigation

Judge tosses 238 oil-spill cases, citing law firm's failure to respond to discovery requests

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A federal judge in Pensacola, Florida, has dismissed 238 cases filed for cleanup workers who blame their medical problems on the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

U.S. District Judge M. Casey Rodgers of the Northern District of Florida ordered the dismissal June 23, Law360 reports.

The plaintiffs were represented by the Nations Law Firm, which has offices in Houston, Washington, D.C., and New York. The plaintiffs were part of a medical benefits class action in multidistrict oil-spill litigation.

In a May 20 court filing labeled a “deficiency report,” BP identified the plaintiffs who had not responded to discovery and included emails about a missed discovery deadline sent to the Nations Law Firm. On May 26, Rodgers ordered the plaintiffs to show cause why their cases shouldn’t be dismissed.

In a statement and a phone conversation with the ABA Journal, Nations Law Firm name partner Howard Nations said his clients should have been covered by a $2 billion settlement that designated $60,700 for each class member. After BP got fairness approval, it then filed a motion to require the plaintiffs to file individual cases and prove a toxic tort, Nations said.

Nations said the individual-case requirement should apply only to cases of late-discovered cancer, not the types of medical problems such as skin and lung damage affecting his clients.

“This was a bait and switch by BP, and they did it very successfully,” Nations said.

Nations said the order tossing his cases clears the way for him to ask the New Orleans judge who approved the settlement to order $60,700 payments through an administrative process.

Nations said in his email statement thousands of individual cases have been filed, but lawyers can’t find experts to support causation claims “because this was never a toxic tort. Hundreds of cases have been dismissed for failure to produce the required expert testimony.”

Nations told the ABA Journal that he spent $85,000 for one analysis by an expert.

“We prosecuted these cases at huge expense,” he said.

Nations noted that his firm recovered $154 million in a companion case against BP.

According to Nations, BP thinks plaintiffs will find it too expensive to pursue separate cases through the “BELO” process, an acronym for the back-end litigation option. But the Nations firm has the money to “represent these clients and pursue every remedy possible,” Nations said.

Rodgers has also ordered law firms representing other groups of plaintiffs to respond to discovery, according to Law360. Rodgers is overseeing more than 500 BELO suits.

In November, Rodgers tossed one group of bellwether cases before her, citing insufficient evidence that the oil spill caused the plaintiffs’ chronic health problems.

Eleven workers died in the 2010 explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, which caused a 134-million-gallon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

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