How Culture, Economics and Politics Shape Collective Litigation
Edited by Deborah R. Hensler, Christopher Hodges and Ianika Tzankova
Chapter 15: Parallel public and private responses: The Buncefield explosion
The largest peacetime explosion in Europe occurred on 10 December 2005 at a major oil storage facility at Buncefield, north of London, when one of the tanks was mistakenly over-filled, causing a vapor cloud that exploded. The tank had two forms of control, both of which failed. Three principal legal consequences followed. Firstly, damage claims were made by the 3,379 individuals, seven local authorities and 754 businesses affected. Secondly, the government established a committee of inquiry to establish the causes of the incident, whether the public regulatory agencies had done their jobs, what lessons could be learned, and what changes should be made to the regulatory system and requirements on authorities and operators. Thirdly, the regulatory authorities’ statutory investigations led to prosecutions, convictions and major fines for several operators and service companies. Although independent of each other, these three consequences proceeded largely in parallel and in practice interacted significantly with each other. This chapter does three things. First, it examines how the damage claims were processed through the courts. It finds, surprisingly, that although the English courts have a mass claim procedure, the Group Litigation Order (GLO), judges declined to invoke that procedure as being unnecessary and instead processed different groups of domestic property and commercial damage cases by relying on the English courts’ inherent case management powers.
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