Transocean seeks delay of oil spill depositions

Owner of the Deepwater Horizon wants to push back collection of evidence until November

By Ramit Plushnick-masti

Published May 25, 2010 10:10PM (EDT)

The company that owns the sunken Deepwater Horizon rig argued in federal court Tuesday that plaintiffs should not begin collecting evidence and testimony on the Gulf oil spill until the November deadline for claimants to file suit.

Transocean Ltd. made its arguments in Houston after the federal court there accepted the company's petition to limit its liability in the oil spill to less than $27 million, the amount the company says the sunken rig is worth.

U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison made no rulings Tuesday. He scheduled two more court dates for early June, noting he wants to focus on whether the suit should remain in Texas or move elsewhere and whether depositions should begin immediately.

Ellison indicated he didn't want to wait.

"Is that a luxury we have in this case? Isn't that an awful long delay?" he asked the Transocean attorneys who argued to wait until all the lawsuits have been filed.

Transocean owned the rig that blew up April 20, killing 11 workers and causing one of the worst U.S. oil spills in decades.

The liability limit set by Ellison's court is based on a 19th century federal maritime law. Lawsuits have been filed in numerous states, and Transocean has said it filed its petition under the 1851 Shipowner's Limitation of Liability Act to get all the lawsuits aggregated in one court.

Attorneys representing workers' widows and workers injured in the initial explosion said the limitation can be broken if they can prove Transocean was negligent. They also argued it was unfair to make families who have suffered wait even longer.

Kurt Arnold, an attorney who has filed suit on behalf of at least 15 families, argued he can get the case moving along if he is allowed to begin the evidence-collecting process immediately.

"Let's get some documents produced in 30 days," Arnold argued. "Let's get some depositions and then we'll prove to Your Honor that we don't even need limitations."

While the judge acknowledged the families' pain and what he called a "horrific personal tragedy," he also noted the lawsuits and issues were complex.

"I do want to proceed cautiously," Ellison said. "I know the stakes are high."

Ramit Plushnick-masti

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Gulf Oil Spill