Case Study

Fifth Circuit appellate victory in a “byzantine dispute”

Great appellate briefs require rigor, intellect, and a strong strategic vision. Partners Marc Tabolsky and Penny Nicholson brought all three to their work in a case that a panel of judges on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit described as a “byzantine dispute.” With more than $50 million in controversy, Marc and Penny won an appeal on behalf of Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s of London in connection with a catastrophic well blowout on a drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

Following the blowout incident, our client, the Underwriters, was forced to pay over $48 million to its insured, the well operator. Together, the operator, other working interest owners, and Underwriters brought product liability claims against the company that had designed and manufactured the blind shear rams used as part of the drilling rig’s blowout preventer. However, the district court struck the opinions of several plaintiffs’ experts, granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant on the product liability claims, and held that all of plaintiffs’ claims were barred by the release and indemnity provisions of the drilling contract between the operator and drilling company.

With more than $50 million in controversy, Marc and Penny won an appeal on behalf of Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s of London in connection with a catastrophic well blowout on a drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

Because the district court had failed to allow key expert testimony, among other issues, we appealed to the Fifth Circuit. After extensive briefing and oral argument, the Fifth Circuit vacated the district court’s dismissal of all affirmative claims of our client and its co-plaintiffs; it held that the operator did not have any duty to defend or indemnify the defendant or third-party defendant and that the contract’s release and indemnity provisions did not bar the plaintiffs’ claims. The Fifth Circuit also reversed the district court’s judgment awarding the defendant and third-party defendant approximately $11 million based on their claims for indemnity.

The case was remanded to the district court for further proceedings and is currently set for docket call in June 2021.