NEW ORLEANS — A federal judge Wednesday threw out all claims against one of the companies that provided services to the ill-fated Macondo well project and tossed punitive damages claims against a second, but he refused to dismiss claims against the three main firms involved — BP, Transocean and Halliburton.
U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier said there is no evidence M-I Swaco, a unit of oilfield services firm Schlumberger that provided fluid to the undersea well, committed any act or omission that caused or contributed to the well blowout or the explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.
“You are home free,” Barbier told a lawyer for M-I Swaco.
Barbier also said he would grant blowout preventer maker Cameron’s motion to dismiss punitive damage claims, which means the company will not be subject to punitive damages in the case.
“I have not heard or seen evidence that would in any way support a finding of gross negligence or willfull misconduct on the part of Cameron,” Barbier said.
As to well owner BP, rig owner Transocean and cement contractor Halliburton, Barbier denied their motions to dimiss gross negligence and other claims.
“You were in the wrong place in line,” Barbier told Halliburton lawyer Don Godwin, adding that he has seen enough evidence to allow the claims against the company to remain.
A gross negligence finding would allow maximum penalties under the Clean Water Act for BP and potentially punitive damages for BP, Transocean and Halliburton.
The flurry of activity came after plaintiffs attorneys in the Gulf oil spill trial formally rested their case after their final witness, a former Halliburton lab official, finished testifying about cement samples from the blown-out Macondo well that had been missing for nearly three years.
Timothy Quirk first took the stand Tuesday and returned on Wednesday.
Two defense witnesses have already testified, Transocean CEO Steven Newman and Transocean drilling expert Calvin Barnhill. Newman defended the seaworthiness of the Deepwater Horizon rig and the competency of its crew, though he said they should have done more to prevent the disaster.
The defense case is now expected to ramp up since the plaintiffs have no more witnesses.
Other witnesses expected to be called to the witness stand by Transocean are workers who were on the rig or on shore on April 20, 2010 when the Deepwater Horizon exploded. The oil spill that followed was the worst offshore spill in U.S. history.
Absent a deal or deals, the trial, which is in its fourth week, is expected to last until the end of May.
During the first phase of the trial, Barbier is hearing evidence on the causes of the well blowout and will determine how to allocate fault. The second phase will address the amount of oil that spilled.
At some point during the trial or after, Barbier also is expected to determine if the disaster resulted from gross negligence.
Further proceedings could determine how much in punitive damages should be assessed, and separate trials could determine damage awards for individuals and businesses that opted out of a multibillion-dollar settlement last year between BP, which owned the well that blew out, and private parties claiming economic or health damages.
Parties include plaintiffs’ attorneys who represent individuals and businesses affected by the spill, the Justice Department, several Gulf states, BP, Transocean, Halliburton and blowout preventer maker Cameron.
Read ongoing FuelFix coverage of the legal trials surrounding the Gulf of Mexico oil spill:
- Plaintiffs’ lawyer resigns amid BP oil spill trial (March 14)
- Worker: Rig was bustling before BP well blowout (March 13)
- Halliburton exec testifies at Gulf spill trial (March 12)
- BP warns investor it’s paying more than expected for spill (March 8)
- BP chief: Law and facts on ‘our side’ in Gulf oil spill trial (March 6)