Class Action Lawsuits Pile Up in Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Disaster

Class Action Lawsuits Pile Up in Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Disaster

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana, May 8, 2010 (ENS) – The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is keeping lawyers busy. At least half a dozen class action lawsuits have been filed on behalf of fishermen, shrimpers, restaurant owners, real estate brokers, property owners, and other Gulf coast residents affected by the oil a day flowing for the past two weeks from the wellhead left uncapped by the explosion and sinking of the oil rig Deepwater Horizon in April.

The defendants in all these lawsuits include various divisions of oil giant BP, formerly British Petroleum, which is considered the responsible party in this incident; Transocean, Ltd., the owners/operators of the Deepwater Horizon; Halliburton Energy, which was involved in “cementing” operations to cap the oil rig when the explosion occurred; and Cameron International Corporation, manufacturers of the rig’s blow-out-preventers, which failed to operate properly and prevent the oil spill.

The Deepwater Horizon sinks in the Gulf of Mexico. April 22, 2010. (Photo courtesy U.S. Dept. of Energy)

Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles has filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of Louisiana businesses affected by the oil spill. Filed in the Eastern District of Louisiana on behalf of plaintiff Gulf Crown Seafood Inc., based in Delcambre, Louisiana, one lawsuit seeks to represent individuals and businesses that have experienced damages related to the disaster, including real property damages, personal property damages, loss of profits and earning capacity, loss of commercial and subsistence use of natural resources, increased costs of public services, and loss of revenues.

“I have been in extensive litigation with the powerful oil industry and know first-hand that they can’t always be trusted to do the right thing,” said Jere Beasley, founding shareholder of Beasley Allen.

Headquartered in Montgomery, Alabama, Beasley Allen also filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of Alabama restaurant owners and food service businesses along the Alabama Gulf Coast for losses resulting from the massive spill. Many of these businesses receive substantial income from tourists, vacationers and commercial and sports fishermen.

Filed in federal court in the Southern District of Alabama on behalf of plaintiff Tacky Jack’s Restaurant, this lawsuit alleges negligence and wanton misconduct on the part of BP, Halliburton and Cameron.

“Between hurricanes and the difficult economic climate, these folks are depending on a strong vacation season to survive,” said Beasley. “This class action aims to protect their legal rights and ensure their day in court.”

Beasley Allen has filed another class action suit in the same Alabama court on behalf of all Alabama shrimp processors represented by Bon Secour Fisheries, Inc., and also on behalf of all Alabama shrimpers represented by Bon Secour Boats.

Gulf Actions Spill Counsel, a national team of attorneys, filed a class action suit in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee, Florida alleging gross negligence, willful misconduct and other claims in the design, construction and operation of the rig, as well as in the response to the disaster.

Oil slick from the Deepwater Horizon turned orange by a chemical dispersant (Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard)

Among the plaintiffs in this case are George Weems Ward, who lives in East Point, Florida, on Apalachicola Bay near Panama City, who earns his living as a guide fisherman, shrimper, and oysterman. A real estate broker and a property owner near Panama City are also plaintiffs in this lawsuit.

Panama City and its beaches are among those expected to be directly impacted by the oil slick as it moves onshore. Panama City Beach is routinely named one of the world’s most beautiful beaches.

The Gulf Oil Spill Litigation Group is representing Mississippi shrimpers, oystermen and crabbers, along with Mississippi shrimping and sea food companies, in a class action lawsuit on behalf of themselves and other Mississippi residents and businesses who have suffered economic losses caused by the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

“While we hope the leak is stopped soon, the spill is rapidly expanding and may eclipse the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster as the worst U.S. oil disaster in history,” said Don Barrett of the Barrett Law Group located in Lexington, Mississippi, and counsel for some of the plaintiffs in this case.

Shrimp boats tied up at Dulac, Louisiana (Photo by Paul Goyette)

p> “The oil spill threatens severe damage to the delicate wetlands and intertidal zones that line the Gulf Coast, destroying the habitats where fish, shellfish, and crustaceans breed, spawn, and mature,” said Zach Butterworth of Hesse & Butterworth, PLLC, of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, counsel for other plaintiffs in this case. “The livelihoods of shrimpers, fishermen, and other persons whose businesses depends on the aquatic wildlife of the Gulf Coast, as well as persons in the recreational fishing, tourist and hospitality industries, are at risk.”

“We caution residents from accepting any payments conditioned upon signing a document releasing BP from liability before speaking to the lawyers of the Gulf Oil Spill Litigation Group,” said Edward Taylor of the Gulfport, Mississippi, office of Daniel Coker Horton & Bell, counsel for other plaintiffs in this case. “It is our duty is to identify all responsible parties, advise you of your rights and true value of your claim, and maximize the compensation that can be obtained.”

This complaint charges that the defendant companies failed to employ necessary safety measures and technologies to prevent damage to marine and coastal environments and estuarine areas.

Attorneys with the Houston-based Lanier Law Firm filed a class action suit on behalf of Louisiana residents that alleges the companies “impaired the response to the emergency, greatly increasing the danger to the environment, human health, and the Gulf Coast economy, by knowingly understating the amount of oil that was leaking from the well.”

The companies initially reported that the well was leaking 1,000 barrels per day, but evidence now shows that the well is leaking more than 5,000 barrels, and this lawsuit claims the companies knew they were underreporting the amount of oil spilling from the broken wellhead.

“By consciously understating the magnitude of the leak, the defendants put the entire Gulf Coast region in increasing danger,” says attorney Mark Lanier. “This oil will not simply evaporate off the water, and in two months we’re likely to be looking at a spill surpassing the Exxon Valdez disaster.”

Tideland Seafood Company in Dulac, Louisiana processes shrimp. (Photo by Paul Goyette)

A group of 10 law firms, including Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and his company, Kennedy & Madonna, has filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of all Louisiana residents who live or work in, or derive income from the Louisiana Coastal Zone.

Plaintiffs in this case are Louisiana shrimpers Acy J. Cooper and Ronnie Louis Anderson, individually and as representatives of the class.

This lawsuit claims that injuries and damages suffered by plaintiffs and the class members were caused by defendant companies’ violations of numerous laws and regulations, including those issued by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard, including the requirement to test the sub-sea blowout preventer at regular intervals.

Wrongful death lawsuits have also been filed as a result of the massive spill. In County Court in Galveston, Texas, attorneys with the Houston trial law firm Arnold & Itkin May 4 filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the family of Aaron Dale Burkeen, one of the 11 men still missing.

A resident of Philadelphia, Mississippi, Burkeen worked as a crane operator on the Deepwater Horizon. On April 20, Burkeen was operating the crane on deck before the first explosion rocked the rig. His responsibilities included getting other crew members to safety. He is believed to have been killed in the second blast.

This lawsuit, filed by the Burkeen family, alleges that the Deepwater Horizon was unseaworthy, and the defendants were negligent in failing to properly maintain the rig and failing to meet federal safety standards.

The lawsuit also includes claims on behalf of three Louisiana men who were seriously injured while working on the Deepwater Horizon. Two of those men were Transocean employees who worked with Burkeen every day, and one was with him at the time of the explosions.

“It is unbelievable that the company wouldn’t take these men to shore after pulling them from this burning rig,” said attorney Jason Itkin. “They sat out there for more than 10 hours and watched their rig burn and fall into the ocean knowing that some of their friends did not escape.”

These are only a few of the lawsuits that have been filed already and will be filed in the future regarding the Deepwater Horizon incident. In addition, the federal government is conducting an investigation into the causes of the disaster, and a number of Congressional hearings are scheduled for the coming weeks.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2010. All rights reserved.

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