Legal bickering begins in Transocean liability case

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by Gabe Gutierrez / 11 News

khou.com

Posted on May 25, 2010 at 6:24 PM

Updated Tuesday, May 25 at 7:07 PM

HOUSTON – Dozens of lawyers gathered in a federal courtroom Tuesday as the owner of the doomed Deepwater Horizon rig asked a judge to limit its liability.

Houston-based Transocean claims it is responsible for just $26.7 million, citing an 1851 law that states the owner of a sunken vessel is liable only for the vessel’s value after an accident.

U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison heard arguments from several sides Tuesday, including attorneys for Transocean and lawyers for the families of the 11 workers killed in the disaster.

Many of the victims’ attorneys expressed frustration that Transocean wanted to hold the proceedings until November.

“It’s clear that Transocean and these other defendants are trying to delay this proceeding as long as possible,” said Matthew Shaffer, a Houston-based attorney.

Shaffer represents rig worker Carlos Ramos, who survived the explosion on April 20.

The rig sunk into the Gulf of Mexico two days later, leaving a gushing oil leak that neither Transocean nor BP --  the company who leased the rig – have been able to stop.

Ron White, a Houston-based lawyer for Transocean, asked the judge to consider the delay because it's likely many more lawsuits will be filed.

“All we have now is snapshots from groups who have their own self interest,” White said.

The judge made no decision Tuesday, but said he wants the lawyers to file their arguments with the court.

“What’s tragic about all of this is that Transocean is here in this courthouse telling this country that their liability should be limited to $26 million for all the people who died, who are still mourning,” said attorney Jeff Seely.

So far, the company has been hit with more than 100 lawsuits. According to a court filing, it wants to consolidate them.

“What we’ve been urging the court to do is let us bury our dead before these companies put these lawyers after us with their legal shenanigans to get the cases where they want them, which is in the company’s best interest,” attorney Ernest Cannon told 11 News after the hearing.

Cannon represents Shelley Anderson of Bay City, whose husband died while trying to fight the rig fire.

“Her husband was swept off the rig and now she's being swept into different states and different courts,” Cannon told the judge.
 

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