Crisis Management

Incident Response


Peter S. Modlin San Francisco
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Douglas M. Fuchs Los Angeles
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Clients regularly turn to Gibson Dunn for help in managing the legal risks in the aftermath of environmental, transportation and industrial incidents. 

These complex matters require expertise and coordination across multiple practice areas, including:

  • Criminal defense
  • Government investigations and enforcement
  • Mass tort and environmental litigation
  • Corporate governance
  • Government contracts/debarment
  • Securities litigation 

Our deep experience and comprehensive proficiency in each of these disciplines make us uniquely qualified and able to represent clients in responding to these high-profile incidents.

Pipeline ruptures, environmental spills, train derailments, industrial accidents and similar events typically generate intense scrutiny from the media, government agencies and plaintiffs' lawyers.  This in turn makes immediate legal counsel imperative, including with respect to:

  • Preserving physical evidence and electronic data and documents
  • Managing government and media communications
  • Participating in government investigations
  • SEC disclosures 

Criminal and civil litigation inevitably follows.  The government has increasingly focused on pursuing enforcement actions, including seeking debarment from federal contracts and criminal prosecution of individuals.

A swift, skilled and sophisticated response is key.  Every action that a company takes in response to an incident can have consequences for the myriad legal risks involved.  A particular course of action may be beneficial for managing one risk, but detrimental for another.  Deciding what course is best requires weighing the competing concerns and developing an overall strategy that accounts for all legal risks.  This requires assembling a targeted team of subject-matter practitioners as early as possible, and ensuring that all facets of the incident response are coordinated and consistent with the overall strategy.

Drawing on our extensive experience, practiced judgment and firmwide capabilities, we coordinate a tailored legal response to best meet each client's objectives and the requirements of the particular situation.


Recent representations include:

  • Representing an oil refining company in criminal, civil and administrative claims arising from a multiple-fatality refinery explosion.  Gibson Dunn has acted as lead counsel in the criminal investigation and all litigation.  After an extensive, multi-year investigation, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington issued a press release declining to bring criminal charges, and the Department of Justice likewise decided not to pursue a civil penalty action.  Gibson Dunn successfully resolved wrongful death claims and is prosecuting the appeal of the largest OSHA citation in Washington state history. 
  • Conducting an internal investigation for a special committee of a board of directors regarding shareholder allegations of mismanagement of health and safety programs.
  • Representing affiliates of a mid-stream gas company in responding to fires and explosions at three different chemical and gas plants, including investigations by OSHA, the Chemical Safety Board, and the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.  Gibson Dunn has also successfully resolved the appeal of citations issued by state and federal OSHA. 
  • Represented a shipping company in connection with a pipeline release into Honolulu Harbor, allegedly causing widespread environmental damage.  We successfully resolved civil and criminal claims, and avoided debarment from federal contracts. 
  • Represented a Special Committee of the Board of Directors of BP plc in connection with an investigation of an explosion at a Texas City, Texas oil refinery that involved multiple fatalities and extensive property damage.  Gibson Dunn guided a year-long investigation into whether directors or officers of BP should be sued for breach of fiduciary duty as a result of their oversight of safety practices at the refinery, and at BP's oil refining operations in general.  The investigation concluded that there was no basis for bringing claims for breach of fiduciary duty. 
  • Represented a freight railroad in connection with a derailment and chemical spill in Kentucky, including participating in federal and state investigations and defending class action claims by residents. 
  • Served as coordinating counsel for World Fuel Services in numerous matters arising out of the July 6, 2013 derailment of a train carrying crude oil in Canada, which ignited a large fire and involved fatalities.  In this capacity, Gibson Dunn oversaw the defense and handling of numerous proceedings including a Canadian class action, 19 wrongful death cases in the United States, a bankruptcy proceeding initiated by the railroad, and a regulatory proceeding commenced in Canada with regard to environmental damages caused by the accident. 
  • Represented the Board of Directors of BP plc in connection with the Department of Justice federal criminal investigation into the Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico, including the eventual resolution of the matter.