Call McGarr Solicitors on: 01 6351580

Home » Blog » Negligence


If the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico happened in Irish waters who would be held responsible?

The question is intentionally ambiguous. It seems to refer to a functioning “administration” which would search out culprits and assign blame and punishment. It seems also to refer to the principles by which blame and perhaps punishment would be assigned.

The first aspect might lead to a rant and should be avoided; it is the second aspect to which I refer, and even that can prove contentious. Consequently, I am invoking consideration of the civil law only.

We know that BP is the lead partner in the drilling of the oil well. We know that the partnership hired an oil drilling platform, and crew, from Transocean. It also engaged Halliburton, as engineers, to pump cement slurry into part of the oil well structures to contain oil.

If damage is caused to a third person during a BP-like operation in Ireland, that person would look to the law of negligence and nuisance to found a claim for compensation. The burden of proving negligence would lie on the injured person. It can be anticipated that the BP partnership would plead that it hired competent independent contractors and that, in standard Irish legal principles, it is not liable for damage caused by any negligence of those contractors.
The Plaintiff would, understandably, reject this. Some obligations cannot be delegated, particularly if they are risky. Drilling an oil well under the sea is risky, particularly at a depth of a mile.

The Plaintiff would still have to prove negligence. If the cause of the accident is to remain unknown, the Plaintiff might be in trouble. (In the BP incident, this is the significance of the admission Barack Obama extracted from BP; proof of negligence need not now be addressed by claimants in civil negligence claims against the BP partnership.)

In Ireland, there would be no admission of liability by a Defendant like BP. Faced by the formidable problems in proving liability in negligence, an Irish Plaintiff would look to the law of nuisance for success. Nuisance is a tort of strict liability. A Plaintiff does not need to prove “fault” to win. He simply needs to prove the source of the damage and that the Defendant was the source.

A leaking oil well is a public nuisance. If the oil damages the property of others the Defendant drilling the well is strictly liable.

Proof of loss from such a source would, itself, require to be sophisticated. Proving loss of profit is not easily done, but would be easy in comparison to the obstacles Plaintiffs commonly have to face in Ireland to hold powerful interests to account.