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Justice Sues BP and 8 Others

The Justice Department has filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in New Orleans against BP and eight other companies involved in the Gulf oil spill that followed the blowout of the Deepwater Horizon Macondo well on April 20, 2010. The lawsuit was announced by the Justice Department on Wednesday, December 15, 2010.

Nine companies were named in the lawsuit which the government has filed in order for the defendants to pay for the environmental and economic damage incurred from the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

The complaint filed Wednesday alleges violations of federal safety regulations leading to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico after the explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig.

The suit names oil drilling rig owner Transocean plus BP plus seven other companies, but not the project’s cement contractor, Halliburton, or the maker of a the cutoff valve that failed. These two companies have not been ruled out completely, both could be added later.

The Department of Justice is hoping that the lawsuit will help prevent future disasters like this from occuring. If the Justice Department can prove the defendants failed to take necessary precautions to control, monitor, and maintain the oil well and safety equipment, then may be held liable Under the Oil Pollution Act.

The lawsuit opens the door for the federal government to ask for billions of dollars in penalties for the pollution of the Gulf of Mexico and its wetlands and beaches, as well as for reimbursement of the cleanup costs.

Over 300 lawsuits filed previously by businesses and individuals are now consolidated in the New Orleans federal court. Previous lawsuits include claims for financial losses and compensation for the families of 11 workers killed in the Deepwater Horizon explosion and fire.

The Justice Department is leaving its options open whether or not to argue that there was gross negligence on the part of the defendants.Should this be the case, the penalties can be higher. Although the government did not specifically state in the lawsuit that it believes there was gross negligence, the possibility for such a finding at a later time is left open.

In addition to seeking civil penalties under the Clean Water Act, the new lawsuit seeks to hold companies liable for penalties under the Oil Pollution Act for all damages and removal costs resulting from the oil spill. This would include damages to natural resources.

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