My Toughest Case: Working for almost six years on the Deepwater Horizon disaster — a case involving more than 200,000 claims


Paul Sterbcow

Admiralty and Maritime Law

Managing Member, Lewis, Kullman, Sterbcow & Abramson

31 years in practice

B.S. Tulane University
J.D. Tulane University Law School

A third-generation New Orleanian, Paul Sterbcow has always loved the water, but his first intention for a career was actually to become a doctor.

“When I started in undergrad at Tulane it was with the idea that I would go to medical school, but then I took an entry-level political science class and I found that, by far and away, the most interesting,” he says. “From there it just seemed natural to get my degree in law. There’s so much involved in the evolution of law — from the Greeks and Romans to now.”

During the first semester of his second year in law school, Sterbcow found his path leading back to the water.

“When I took Admiralty 1 with Robert Force it just caught me immediately,” he says. “Maritime law is one of the few areas of law that is truly national while state laws apply at the core. It is based on the U.S. Constitution and federal statutes and created over time by the judiciary. There’s so many unique principles when it comes to the law of the sea.”

Sterbcow says his toughest case, in terms of size and complexity, was his work representing the plaintiff side of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The largest oil spill in U.S. history, the case involved 11 deaths and numerous injuries.

“I was honored to act as co-lead of the liability trial team with my friend, Bobo Cunningham, of the Cunningham Bounds firm in Moblie,” he says. “We reviewed and used over 1 million documents, oversaw and participated in 300 depositions in 12 months, including 30 in London that included BP’s corporate leadership, held weekly discovery/status conferences with Judge Sally Shushan and tried the case with our team of 12 outstanding trial lawyers for three months before Judge Barbier.”

Sterbcow’s worked on the case from October 2010 to April 2016.

“It was so huge that we basically set up a new law business on an entire floor downtown, hired clerks and associates, document reviewers, had security systems and technology to prevent against hacking.”

He adds that he’s proud of the outcome of the case, which involved over 200,000 claims.

“If you look at the efforts that were made objectively, from the perspective of efficiency and the quality of lawyering given the sheer size of this case, I think it was extraordinary,” he says. “It was an amazing professional experience and one in which I learned a tremendous amount from lawyers on all sides about litigating complex matters.”