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. Commercial fisherman, shrimpers, charter-boat operators and beachfront property owners began signing up as plaintiffs in at least 18 proposed suits already filed in courthouses from Texas to Florida. More court actions were expected.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., president of the Waterkeeper Alliance, jumped into the fray, filing suit on behalf of Louisiana commercial shrimpers. Four Waterkeeper groups are active in the region, Louisiana Bayoukeeper in Barataria; Mobile Baykeeper in Alabama; Emerald Coastkeeper in Pensacola, Fla.; and Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper in Baton Rouge, La. “The Waterkeeper Alliance can answer the following question, “Is burning fuel the right move for the environment, human health and the Gulf economy?” a public relations firm representing the group e-mailed media contacts.
“The fire, explosion and resulting oil spill was caused by the joint negligence and fault of the defendants,” the Waterkeeper complaint charged. It accused BP and other companies of “failing to properly operate the Deepwater Horizon…to properly inspect the Deepwater Horizon to assure that its equipment and personnel were fit…Acting in a careless and negligent manner without due regard for the safety of others. Operating the Deepwater Horizon with untrained and unlicensed personnel…Failure to react to danger signs.”
High-powered law firms experienced in multimillion-dollar environmental lawsuits were issuing news releases touting their previous victories. Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles of Montgomery, Ala., filed a class-action against British Petroleum and several other companies with ties to the Deepwater Horizon drill rig, and declared that it “seeks to represent individuals and businesses that have incurred damages related to the disaster.”
“It looks like this will be a major piece of litigation for a lot of years if it hits as predicted,” Mobile, Ala., attorney Robert Cunningham, whose firm has filed five suits, told Bloomberg News. “There are big losses already. The condo owners are having cancellations right and left over concerns about fouled beaches. Its going to be a tremendous disaster if it comes ashore.”
Alabama and Florida beachfront property owners filed at least eight suits claiming the spill will damage rental income. The “sugar sand” beaches of Mississippi and Florida are prized by vacationers. Plaintiffs also include families of at least ten of the 28 crew members killed or injured in the Deep Water explosion who have sued London-based BP and Geneva-based Transocean, the world’s largest offshore driller.
Neither Transocean nor BP spokesmen responded to requests for comment on the litigation.
–Margot Roosevelt, with wires