April 20 Gulf Oil Spill: Stetson Law Panel Reflects on Legal Challenges

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Stetson Law faculty discussion — Aug. 20, 2010
Part two of their conversation can be viewed here.

Today marks one year since  an explosion erupted in the Gulf of Mexico and the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform sank off the coast of Louisiana. Eleven workers were killed, and 17 sustained injuries. A damaged well on the ocean floor began gushing oil into the Gulf.

Once the oil stopped flowing into the Gulf, lawsuits began to surface. People, animals, industries and the environment in four states along the Gulf coast were facing the possibility of lasting impacts from the offshore accident.

In August, just four months after the oil well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, Stetson Law gathered a roundtable of legal experts on the Gulfport, Fla., campus to discuss how the law had responded to similar disasters in the past, what to expect this time, and what legal experts should be talking about to prevent this type of disaster from happening again in the future.

The panel of Stetson’s legal experts included visiting professor Christine Cerniglia, who began her legal career in New Orleans practicing maritime law and offshore drilling personal injury defense; professor Blake Hudson, who has a master’s degree in environmental science, a law degree and teaches property, natural resources and environmental law; Dr. Tim Kaye, who teaches torts and product liability and is originally from the U.K.; and professor Ellen Podgor, a former deputy prosecutor and criminal defense attorney who teaches white collar crime, criminal law, international criminal law and edits the White Collar Crime Blog.

The panel addressed questions regarding BP’s liability; methods of environmental regulation; environment and natural resource management; and parallels to the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the Oil Pollution Act, passed after the Exxon Valdez spill in 1990 as a legislative response to create a national contingency plan and disaster fund.

While differing in their approach to the tangle of legal issues surfacing in the wake of the oil blowout in the Gulf, in one matter, the roundtable of Stetson Law professors agreed. A proactive, educational approach, they concluded, is better than taking the traditionally reactive stance. While accidents always happen, Dr. Kaye said, “I think that trying to prevent them — regulating and educating to prevent them — is definitely the way to go, rather than saying well, it’s likely to happen and we’ll try to fire-fight it as best we can after the event because we can never do it as well.”