CNN and a number of other media outlets are reporting that BP has agreed to a settlement with tens of thousands of individuals and business who suffered economic harm as a result of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, which resulted in more than 59,000 barrels of oil spewing into the Gulf waters daily for more than three months. BP has also agreed with the federal government to plead guilty to manslaughter charges as a result of this accident. Eleven men died in the oil-platform explosion which led to the oil spill.
The reported settlement is valued at approximately $7.8 billion. Judge Carl Barbier of the United States District Court in New Orleans gave final approval to the settlement on Friday, December 21, 2012. In his 125-page ruling, Judge Barbier approved the settlement over the objections of approximately 13,000 possible claimants. Judge Barbier determined that the settlement reached a fair and equitable result, and would properly compensate those economically damaged by the accident. The settlement will not, however, reach seafood industry claims specifically.
The 2010 oil spill was a tragic example of corporate malfeasance resulting in a devastating accident. Investigations into the cause of the accident have determined that BP and its other corporate partners ignored warning signs which, if heeded, may have allowed BP to address problems on the deep sea oil platform, thereby avoiding the accident. Unfortunately, this did not happen and, as a result, eleven people lost their lives and a devastating ecological disaster occurred. According to CNN, the Justice Departent accused BP of engaging in a "culture of corporate recklessness."
As can be seen from this story, class actions may be a powerful tool to use in holding corporations responsible for wrongdoing. They allow many people, who otherwise might lack the resources to take on a corporate behemoth in litigation, to band together in order to receive compensation and to hold corporations to account.