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BP Gets Win in Oil Spill Florida Injury Cases

Kirkland is mentioned in Law360 regarding the Firm's role in litigation over the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

A Florida federal judge on Wednesday dismissed a group of bellwether cases in litigation over the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill brought by state clean up workers and coastal residents who claimed they had health problems from the disaster, finding their expert testimony was flawed.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge M. Casey Rodgers involves about 500 cases filed by plaintiffs who were diagnosed with medical problems after a cut-off date in a settlement agreement in the main multidistrict litigation over the spill in Louisiana federal court. The judge sided with BP's argument regarding toxicologist Dr. Patricia Williams' testimony that particulate matter from oil and arsenic caused the plaintiffs' chronic medical problems, which include headaches and nausea.

The judge said that her opinion fell "woefully" short of the federal Daubert standard for expert witness testimony.

Judge Rodgers said that Williams failed to provide any analysis of the studies she relied on and therefore her opinions are "classic ipse dixit."

She also refused to consider data for exposure to chemicals from the Gulf Coast of Florida, instead relying on data from locations far from the area, the judge said.

The 2010 disaster killed 11 people and caused 4 million barrels of oil to spill into the Gulf of Mexico, ushering in a wave of litigation. The cleanup response involved skimming oil from the water and dispersing chemicals to break up the oil, according to the opinion.

Additionally, Williams didn't explain her method for identifying the scientific literature she relied on, other than saying she made computer searches and "looking for everything that is in crude oil," the judge said.

"Aside from broadly observing that all epidemiological studies are flawed, Dr. Williams clearly did not feel it was her job to critique the studies she relied on or identify what distinctions, similarities, limitations, or biases in the studies she found important," the judge said. "In fact, when given the opportunity during her deposition to provide a critical analysis of the studies she relied on, Dr. Williams flatly refused[.]"

BP's experts said that there was insufficient evidence from the data collected during the spill and cleanup to conclude that oil or other chemicals on the Florida coast could cause any of the chronic health problems that the plaintiffs claimed, according to the opinion.

"In addition, [one expert] evaluated the actual exposure data to determine whether the bellwether Plaintiffs could have been exposed to sufficient levels of potentially harmful chemicals associated with the Deepwater Horizon spill to increase their risk of developing the chronic medical conditions at issue," the judge said. "He expressed the opinion that the levels of chemicals present in the general areas where the plaintiffs worked or resided (northern Florida beaches) were negligible and harmless to human health."

The judge said that a new round of bellwether plaintiffs would be selected in a separate order.

Representatives for the parties didn't immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.

The plaintiffs are represented by The Downs Law Group PA, Falcon Law Firm and The Nations Law Firm.

BP is represented by Kirkland & Ellis LLP.

The case is In Re: Deepwater Horizon BELO Cases, case number 3:19-cv-00963, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida.