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Wrongful Death and the Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig Explosions

Wrongful death suits filed against British Petroleum (BP) as a result of the April 20 oil rig explosions in the Gulf of Mexico have increased to three. The family of Aaron Dale Burkeen filed suit in Galveston County, Texas, on May 4, after Burkeen was presumed to have died in the explosions. Burkeen’s family alleges in Kritzer v. Transocean Ltd. that the rig, the Deepwater Horizon, did not meet federal safety standards. Among other problems, the lawsuit alleges that maintenance was inadequate. The rig allegedly carried defective blowout prevention equipment. And Halliburton’s unsafe cement work contributed to the explosions, the lawsuit claims. According to the Kritzer plaintiffs, previous fires, collisions and oil spills plagued the vessel.

Before the Burkeen wrongful death claim, two other wrongful death suits were filed as a result of the oil rig explosions on the Deepwater Horizon. The families of Shane Roshto and Karl Kleppinger filed suits in New Orleans, La., and Harris County, Texas, respectively.

The lawsuit on behalf of Roshto’s family, Roshto v. Transocean Ltd., alleges that Halliburton’s improper and negligent cementing of the well and well cap was a cause of the explosion. The suit charges Transocean, Halliburton and BP with failing to provide a competent crew or properly supervise employees, providing an unsafe workplace, providing inadequate staffing, and failing to follow accepted protocols. Kleppinger v. Transocean Ltd. alleges that Transocean was negligent in that the Deepwater Horizon was not seaworthy.

For the parties filing the wrongful death suits to recover from the defendants, they will have to convince the court that the oil rig explosions would not have occurred but for negligence on the part of the defendants. Negligence means failing to act as a reasonably prudent person would act in similar circumstances. But negligence alone will not win a wrongful death suit. The negligence must also have been the actual cause of the death. The surviving spouses or children who bring the wrongful death suit must also show that the victims’ deaths caused monetary damages.

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