MICHELE NORRIS, host:
The company that owns the oil rig that caught fire in the gulf has asked the federal court to step in. It wants a limit on how much it may owe survivors of the explosion, families of the crew members killed, as well as others affected indirectly by the blast.
NPR's Joseph Shapiro explains.
Transocean, the owner of the oil rig that blew up and now lies on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. These lawsuits are different than the ones for the cost of the environmental cleanup, which oil company BP has said it will pay.
These come from the families of dead crew members, from injured survivors, commercial fishermen and seafood companies. Those plaintiffs are asking for billions of dollars in damages. But Transocean has asked the federal court in Houston to use a legal formula that would limit what's owed to no more than $27 million.
Martin Davies is a professor of maritime law at Tulane University.
Professor MARTIN DAVIES (Maritime Law, Tulane University): One of the advantages of this is that it enables Transocean to control the pace of the litigation, to just bring it all together, to bring it under control in a way that, ironically, BP has not been able to get the spill under control yet. It's kind of the legal version of what they're trying to do with oil coming out from under the ground, focus it all in one place.
SHAPIRO: Transocean used the common legal maneuver when there's a maritime accident. It consolidates those lawsuits into one court, not many, and that's a federal court, not a state court before a jury where the plaintiffs could expect a higher damage award.
Steve Gordon is a Houston maritime attorney who is suing Transocean.
Mr. STEVE GORDON (Maritime Lawyer): It's a sad day for all the claimants because they're all going to get lumped into this $26,700,000 figure. No matter what the jury awards, they're going to have to somehow only get a share of that, and that is a very sad day.
SHAPIRO: To fight the cap on liability, Gordon and other lawyers must now prove that Transocean knew about the problems that caused the spill and could have acted to stop it.
Transocean, in a statement, said it acted out the instruction of its insurers and because it wanted to create a more orderly court process.
Joseph Shapiro, NPR News.
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