Slicked and Slabbed

“BP is responsible for this leak — BP will be paying the bill…”

Mr. Obama met with Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana upon the arrival of Air Force One in New Orleans. Then he went to Venice for two hours — by road, rather than helicopter, because of inclement weather — to look at the response.

He stopped to speak to several fishermen, assuring them that BP would reimburse them for lost earnings. But reimbursement may be one of the largest battles to come, given that federal law sets a limit of $75 million on BP’s liability for damages, apart from the cleanup costs.

“It’s going to be extremely tricky” to reimburse fishermen and others if economic damages tally above $75 million, said Stuart Smith, a New Orleans-based lawyer who is pushing for Congressional action to amend the law…

Offhand, I’d say oil will freeze over before the law is amended. Like “big insurance”, “big oil” spends its money on influence – spreading dollars around the politically “slick” – and few politicians are slicker (pun intended) than Louisiana’s own David Vitter:

The potential magnitude of the disaster and the limited liability established in law, “big oil” is spilling into federal court about as fast as its leaking out of the deep water well:

Drill, baby, drill is turning into sue, baby, sue. Class-action lawsuits against operators of the exploded Gulf of Mexico oil rig multiplied Friday as the oil began washing onto Louisiana shores…

High-powered law firms experienced in multimillion-dollar environmental lawsuits were issuing news releases touting their previous victories.

The Central Florida Law Journal estimates about 40 lawsuits, including “roughly 30 class action suits”,  have been filed this far.   The “tenth oil spill lawsuit filed in federal court in Mobile, Ala.; seeks payments to landlords:

George C. Simpson, who owns rental property near the Gulf, seeks to represent all property owners within 10 miles of the Alabama coast. He alleges that the leaking oil from the Deepwater Horizon accident is “destroying the vacation industry in the areas surrounding the Gulf of Mexico” and that he already has experienced lost revenue due to cancellations.

The Sun Herald reported Louisiana attorney Daniel Becnel is leading one group of lawyers suing BP, rig owner Transocean Ltd. and companies that had roles in rig operations, such as Cameron International, which produced the rig’s blowout preventers. (Complaint)

Becnel said such legal teams are common in large, complex cases because each lawyer brings his or her own specialty. They also set up committees to screen potential clients and identify the strongest cases.

“I want the best brief writers. I want the best deposition takers. I want the best lawyers who can work with experts,” said Becnel

Becnel’s group includes two firms familiar to SLABBED readers who have followed Katrina litigation – Herman Herman Katz & Cotlar LLP and Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Echsner, Rafferty & Proctor, P.A. – as well as one with a familiar name, Kennedy & Madonna, LLP – the law firm of environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., president of the Waterkeeper Alliance.

Speaking of “firms familiar to SLABBED readers who have followed Katrina litigation, Chip Merlin’s blog reported the  Merlin Law Group will file suit today: “Our firm will file our first BP Oil spill lawsuit…with our long term co-counsel in the panhandle of Florida, Keefe, Anchors, Gordon & Moyle, P.A. and co-host “an educational town hall meeting in Destin on Tuesday…”to help those who may be affected from what is being described as the worst environmental calamity in US history, in understanding what they need to know about the oil spill and how it may affect their bottom-line”.

The Sun Herald reported Mississippi’s first class action lawsuit filed over oil spill last Friday; Robin Fitzgerald had the story:

Attorneys representing the owner of a Pass Christian seafood company have filed a class-action lawsuit over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill near Mississippi’s coastline. (Complaint)

Bay St. Louis attorney Edward Gibson filed the lawsuit this morning in U.S. District Court on behalf of Jerry Forte, owner of Jerry Forte Seafood, and the interests of all Mississippians…who live, work in or derive an income from the coastal zone who sustain loss or damage from the April 20 explosion on the oil rig and the resulting oil spill…

It is believed to be Mississippi’s first class-action lawsuit over the massive oil spill following the explosion and sinking of oil rig Deepwater Horizon off the Lousiana Coast…

Attorneys who led the fight against insurance companies after Hurricane Katrina filed a class-action complaint in federal court today against multiple defendants, alleging their “gross negligence” caused the massive oil spill headed toward the Coast.

The Sun Herald has also reported, again with Anita Lee on the story, “The Mississippi Association for Justice, an organization of attorneys who represent injured people, is asking Attorney General Jim Hood to investigate…out-of-state attorneys and runners who work for them are soliciting clients for lawsuits over the oil spill”:

Under professional rules of conduct, attorneys are not supposed to solicit cases. Also, it is a misdemeanor violation of state statute to practice law in Mississippi without a state license.

In addition to the involvement of attorneys in private practice, WWLTV reports, “The attorneys general from Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas want BP PLC to sign an agreement spelling out exactly what “legitimate expenses” they’ll cover from the spill;

Florida AG Bill McCollum said after Sunday’s meeting in Mobile, Ala., that he doesn’t know if expenses include business losses, protecting environmental areas and lost wages for restaurant workers.

The men say BP executives told them the company would review their request.

The men aren’t going to file a lawsuit yet, but they say they want Gulf Coast residents to know that they will work together to hold BP and other responsible parties accountable.

However, “Alabama Attorney General Troy King said…he has told representatives of BP…that they should stop circulating settlement agreements among coastal Alabamians”:

The agreements, King said, essentially require that people give up the right to sue in exchange for payment of up to $5,000.

King said BP’s efforts were particularly strong in Bayou La Batre.

The attorney general said he is prohibited from giving legal advice to private citizens, but added that “people need to proceed with caution and understand the ramifications before signing something like that.

“In order to give you a better sense of just how big the unfolding tragedy in the Gulf is”, Yahoo Green posted The Gulf of Mexico oil spill by the numbers last Friday and “dug out some surprising statistics”:

11: Number of workers missing and presumed dead following the BP rig explosion. (Source: Huffington Post)

5,000 barrels a day: Rate at which oil is leaking from the Deepwater Horizon rig — five times faster than was originally estimated. (Source: New York Times)

$300 million: Estimated cost to BP to plug up the leaking oil spill, not including environmental clean-up costs. (Source: New York Times)

$25 billion: Loss of market value to BP stock since last week’s rig explosion. (Source: Huffington Post).

16: Miles off the coast of Louisiana the oil slick has crept. (Source: New York Times)

At least 30: Species of birds the Audubon Society says are potentially threatened by the oil spill. These include marsh birds, ocean-dwelling birds, and migratory songbirds. All reside in “Important Bird Areas,” according to Audubon, designated because of their “essential habitat value.”

Among the most vulnerable species is the brown pelican — the state bird of Louisiana — which was only recently removed from the endangered species list. The spill is especially devastating for bird populations because it coincides with the beginning of breeding season. (Source: Audubon Society)

25 million: Number of birds that traverse the Gulf Coast per day and which are potentially at risk from the oil spill. According to the LA Times Greenspace blog, “Late spring is the peak time for neo-tropical songbirds moving from the Yucatan Peninsula to make their first landfall in Louisiana,” and “more than 70% of the country’s waterfowl frequent the gulf’s waters.”(Source: LA Times Greenspace blog)

11 million: Number of gallons of oil leaked into Alaska’s Prince William Sound in 1989 by the Exxon Valdez oil leak. It is widely considered the worst oil spill in U.S. history, although a number of larger spills have happened around the world, including the 2002 Prestige spill off Spain. (Source: CBS News)

400: Number of wildlife species threatened by the spill. Threatened species include sea life such as whales, tuna, and shrimp; dozens of species of birds; land animals such as the gray fox and white-tailed deer; and amphibians such as the alligator and the snapping turtle. (Source: New Orleans Times-Picayune)

600 square miles: Latest reported size of the oil slick. In response to reports of the blooming size of the spill, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency, anticipating that it would reach Louisiana’s shores soon. (Source: CNN)

1.5 billion: Amount in insurance claims experts believe the BP spill will cost insurers. (Source: Business Week)

Add to those numbers, two documents certain to be central in any litigation: the proposed rule at 30 CFR Part 250, Safety and Environmental Management Systems for Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Operations, published in the June 17, 2009 Federal Register, and the September 14, 2009 comments submitted by BP.

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