Fishermen say oil company representatives pressure them to sign waivers, give up legal rights

MONTGOMERY, ALA. (May 14, 2010)  – Days after the BP oil spill, reports surfaced that BP included a waiver of claims in its contracts with fishermen to help with cleanup efforts, which was later confirmed. On the heels of that campaign to deprive victims of their legal rights, stories are beginning to circulate about another BP campaign designed to take advantage of fishermen.

During a May 12 Vessels of Opportunity meeting at the Friendship Baptist Church in Bon Secour, Alabama, BP officials warned fishermen that they would not address claims presented by individuals and businesses that retained an attorney. In another instance, fishermen speaking to a BP claims adjuster were told to produce “letters of representation or non-representation.” Reports throughout the Gulf coast, including the Florida panhandle, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, suggest BP is employing the same measures in an effort to intimidate fishermen from obtaining legal representation.

Most fishermen have extremely high expense overheads and live week to week off of their catch. As a result of the oil spill, fishermen are growing more and more anxious to bring in some form of revenue to pay bills and survive given the fishing closures and approaching oil slick. By refusing to provide temporary support and assistance to fishermen who have sought legal representation, BP is effectively punishing them and holding their businesses hostage.

BP certainly understands the importance of retaining competent legal counsel. Indeed, BP currently employs hundreds of lawyers throughout the United States who handle all aspects of their business, including transactions, negotiations, litigation and lobbying. Yet BP, with all its vast legal resources, is apparently unwilling to consider the claims of fishermen who have sought the advice of counsel themselves. Clearly, this type of intimidation tactic needs to stop immediately.

Rhon Jones, Environmental Section head of Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles, P.C. in Montgomery, Alabama, says, “This is yet another ploy by BP to pressure and intimidate desperate fishermen into abandoning their legal rights and engaging BP directly.” Further, he says, “BP has all the resources and lawyers at its grasp, but they want to deprive the very people they have harmed from having representation to protect their rights. The fact that BP is playing these games with the fishermen is shameful.”

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