Ashurst and Davies Arnold Cooper (DAC) have lost their bid to stave off £750m in claims against Buncefield operators Total.
Sitting in the High Court today Mr Justice David Steel found Total vicariously liable for all damages spinning out of the 2005 Buncefield explosion, which the court found was caused by the negligence of a Total employee.
The judge also found that Total’s head office staff had contributed to the explosion by failing to put in place an adequate system for preventing the overfilling of the fuel tanks that exploded.
It marks a major victory for Herbert Smith and Jonathan Sumption QC of Brick Court Chambers, who represented joint defendant Chevron in its quest to hold Total liable. Chevron would have been liable for 40 per cent of damages if it had lost the case.
As it stands, the company can claim damages and quantum against Total, which is likely to faces a damages bill of around £1bn.
The depot was jointly run by Total and Chevron by a venture called Hertfordshire Oil Storage Ltd (HOSL). Herbert Smith partners Ted Greeno and Caroline Kehoe argued through Sumption that Total had taken responsibility for maintaining the site and therefore should be held liable for negligence.
Ashurst partner Mark Elvy and DAC partner Nick Young instructed Lord Grabiner QC of One Essex Court and Andrew Bartlett QC of Crown Office Chambers for Total Downstream UK and Total UK.
Kennedys acted as lead counsel for the insurers of residents affected outside the perimeter of Buncefield. The firm, which instructed Jonathan Gaisman QC of 7 Kings Bench Walk, scored a major victory against the oil companies in April 2008 when the defendants admitted negligence and conceded liability.