Cameron Loses Appeal to Scuttle BP Gulf Spill Trial Plan

Cameron International Corp. (CAM) lost its appeal to derail the February nonjury trial over which companies should be blamed for the 2010 BP Plc oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit rejected Cameron’s claim that U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier wrongly cited maritime law to allow him to conduct a nonjury trial over liability for the incident. Cameron contended that claims against the company fall under the federal Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which allows for a jury trial.

“The district court did not clearly err in concluding that the limitation proceeding is within the court’s admiralty jurisdiction,” the three-judge panel said in a one-paragraph decision yesterday. The court rejected review of other issues raised by Cameron.

Cameron asked the appeals court to throw out the existing trial plan and rule that the company has a right to a trial before a jury. Yesterday’s ruling removes a possible obstacle to the nonjury trial before Barbier that is scheduled to begin Feb. 27 in New Orleans to determine liability and apportion fault.

Damage Claims

Barbier plans two subsequent nonjury phases on the size of the spill and efforts to contain it. Test jury trials on damages would follow, the judge said. Cameron, which settled damage claims with BP this month, said the trial plan violates its constitutional rights.

“There is not a claim against Cameron that does not implicate our right to a jury trial under the Seventh Amendment,” Russell Post, a Cameron attorney, told the judges at the hearing Dec. 22 in federal court in Dallas. That amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees citizens’ and companies’ rights to jury trials in civil disputes.

“We’re going to decline to comment,” Rhonda Barnat, a spokeswoman for Cameron, said today.

The April 2010 Macondo well blowout and explosion killed 11 workers and caused the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. The accident spawned hundreds of lawsuits against BP and its partners, including Cameron, Transocean Ltd. (RIG), the Switzerland- based owner and operator of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that exploded, and Halliburton Co. (HAL), which provided cementing services.

Combined Suits

The lawsuits for injuries, economic and environmental loss are combined before Barbier in New Orleans. The judge has cited maritime laws as the basis for his decision to review liability issues without a jury.

Houston-based Cameron reported Dec. 16 that it had agreed to pay BP $250 million in exchange for the oil company’s indemnifying it from damage claims. The settlement doesn’t cover fines or penalties or punitive damages.

The appeals case is In re: Cameron International, 11-30987, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The lawsuits are combined in In re Oil Spill by the Oil Rig Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, MDL-2179, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans).

To contact the reporter on this story: Margaret Cronin Fisk in Southfield, Michigan, at mcfisk@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net.

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