Even as an expected 110 million Americans take to their couches for the 47th Super Bowl on Feb. 3, Locks is waging a legal battle that represents the most serious threat to the viability of big-time football since an outbreak of fatal skull fractures back in the leather-helmet days. Locks and a group of allied plaintiffs’ lawyers are suing the National Football League on behalf of more than 4,000 former players and their wives who accuse the $9.5 billion-a-year business of covering up life-altering brain injuries.
The clash reflects life in the tech big leagues: Apple sharply reminding a formidable rival who’s boss. At the same time, Apple v. Samsung is remarkable for its scale. The combatants barely notice the millions of dollars in legal expenses they’re each spending annually to flog the other in an epic struggle that will surely test their multibillion-dollar symbiotic relationship. The battle also signals a broader conflict pitting Apple against multiple mobile-device manufacturers in some three dozen legal and regulatory actions pending in 10 countries. Beyond Samsung, Apple’s notable antagonists include Motorola Mobility (MMI) and HTC (2498). As Silicon Valley sophisticates underscore, however, the phone and tablet makers are mere proxies for another foe—Android, the operating system Google (GOOG) gives away to manufacturers. Google employs a come-one, come-all business model radically at odds with Apple’s and, in the late Steve Jobs’s view, existentially threatening to his company.
Fourteen months after the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded 50 miles southeast of Venice, La., killing 11 men and setting off the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history, Transocean (RIG), the company that owned and ran the ill-fated 32,600-ton vessel, finally issued its official account of what happened and why. It produced a report on June 22 of no fewer than 854 pages, divided into two volumes, and spared no detail. The bottom line, though, isn’t complicated:It was BP’s (BP) fault.
That Transocean would try to deflect blame isn’t surprising. The Swiss-incorporated, Houston-based drilling contractor is caught in a litigation frenzy involving British Petroleum; Halliburton (HAL), which did cement work; and several other companies, including Anadarko Petroleum (AAPC), one of the minority stakeholders in the well, and Cameron International (CAM), manufacturer of a critical piece of safety equipment known as the blowout preventer. They are wrestling over who will get stuck with tens of billions of dollars in environmental and economic damage claims related to the blowout of BP’s Macondo well on Apr. 20, 2010.
Since then, Transocean has refused to acknowledge committing any mistakes that may have contributed to the disaster. It has declined to help pay for the cleanup. It has made no apologies. And what is remarkable is that this blame-the-client, admit-no-wrong, take-no-prisoners approach appears to be working.
On Feb. 14, Steven R. Donziger won a legal victory of extraordinary proportions. In a small town in eastern Ecuador, a provincial judge in a storefront courtroom ordered Chevron (CVX) to pay $18.1 billion for the benefit of Donziger’s clients, thousands of Amazon villagers who blame the U.S. company’s predecessor for pollution related to oil drilling in the rainforest. On the all-time roster of environmental recoveries, the Chevron judgment—if it were ever collected—would rank second only to BP’s (BP) promised $20 billion fund to compensate victims of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
BP, of course, acted in response to hundreds of lawsuits, some filed by famous and powerful class-action lawyers, not to mention dire threats from the Obama Administration. Before taking on Chevron in a brawl that started 18 years ago, Donziger had never brought, let alone won, a civil lawsuit. Not a supermarket slip-and-fall, not a simple contract-gone-sour—nothing. A former public defender, his past clients included thieves and crack dealers. Today he works from a brief-cluttered two-bedroom apartment he shares with his wife and four-year-old son on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. “I have tremendous professional respect for Steven,” says Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. “He is the driving force behind what’s probably the most important environmental lawsuit in the world seeking to hold an oil company accountable for its actions.”