NEW ORLEANS – A judge says Alabama’s Gulf oil-spill-damage claims under the federal Oil Pollution Act can be heard by a jury.
BP had moved to block a jury trial for the state, saying that neither the Oil Pollution Act nor admiralty law provides the right to a trial by jury.
U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans rejected the oil giant’s arguments in a ruling released late Monday. He noted cases in which other courts have held that juries can hear at least some claims under the pollution act, even though the act does not expressly provide for a jury. And he said the state is entitled to a jury under the Seventh Amendment.
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange hailed the ruling in a Tuesday news release. The civil cases arising from the 2010 spill have been consolidated in New Orleans. But Strange hopes that when the trial starts, as early as the spring of 2016, it will take place in Alabama.
“I’ve always believed that a jury of Alabamians should have the final say over the extent of economic damages owed our state,” Strange said.
BP spokesman Geoff Morrell said the company disagrees with Barbier’s ruling and is considering its legal options.
The 2010 spill happened after an explosion destroyed the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig at BP’s Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico. The blast killed 11 workers and sent oil spewing into the Gulf for 87 days.