Friday, May 14, 2010

Transocean Mines Houston Federal Court for Liability Limit

Transocean followed BP to the friendlier waters of Houston federal court with its petition to limit its liability for the Deepwater Horizon conflagration and oil catastrophe. The firm filed under the Limitation of Liability Act of 1851. The act holds a vessel owner liable only for the post-accident value of the vessel and cargo, so long as the owner can show he or she had no knowledge of negligence in the accident, according to maritime lawyers.

Transocean wants to do more than limit its liability. WSJ reported:

"One of the primary goals of this filing is to consolidate in a single court many of the lawsuits that have been initiate an orderly process for these lawsuits and claims before a single, impartial federal judge," Transocean said in a prepared statement.
I.e, no jury. Is Judge Lynn Hughes a member of the petroleum club? Is the Houston office of Baker Botts, the law firm of James A. Baker, III, at the table? Baker Botts performed legal work for all three companies testifying before Congress, BP, Transocean, and Halliburton.

The blame game means long delays in compensation for the injured and legal tricks to minimize corporate liability. It took twenty years for Exxon to pay a relative pittance for fouling Alaska's coastline and wiping out the livelihood of those the company promised to protect. The hospital with the highest patient death toll during Hurricane Katrina is vigorously fighting lawsuits five years later.

LifeCare Hospitals sought federal court jurisdiction, like BP and Transocean. The Carlyle Group affiliate blamed the federal government for its patient deaths, claiming patients became wards of the government when FEMA evacuation teams set up in New Orleans. The defense is patently laughable, but Uncle Sam doesn't mind politically connected, wealthy death dealers.

Watch the lawsuits and the players involved, in a creepy Six Degrees of James A. Baker, III fashion. The first creepy connection is Frances Fragos Townsend, head of risk management consulting practice at Baker Botts. She specializes in government investigations, now representing the corporate side. Townsend omitted the hospital with the highest patient death toll from her White House Katrina Lessons Learned report. Incompetence or political connections?

The second creepy connection is James Baker's BP ties, having investigated BP's Texas City refinery explosion that killed 15 people. BP CEO Lord John Browne promised to make things right, but fled to Riverstone Holdings, The Carlyle Group's energy joint venture. Lord Browne's testimony is laughable. Was he coached by Baker Botts' lawyers? Given his Carlyle Group connections, did James A. Baker, III help Browne land his new job?

It's sad how history repeats itself. Blue and Red "club members" cover up for one another, legally and financially. Nonmembers will suffer the costs of greed and shoddy work.

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