If you thought Toyota’s unintended acceleration problems prompted a legal whirlwind, the aftermath of the BP oil spill in the Gulf will blow your mind. Lawsuits are already popping up on all sides of the issue. Local fishermen, farmers, and business people are suing BP; the federal government has launched a criminal investigation into the British oil giant; and environmental groups are now considering a challenge to the EPA over its use of harmful chemical dispersants in the spill.
While BP isn’t likely to be economically devastated by cleanup or regulatory fees resulting from the spill, it’s a PR disaster that is already starting to take a toll. The New York Times reported yesterday that key BP’s investors have started to distance themselves from the company. In less than two months since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20, BP has reportedly lost $75 billion, a third of its market value. That’s no small potatoes, even for multinational oil behemoths.
Since we last wrote about the tough class action suits mounting against BP a week ago, the strategic pre-game has revved up. Hoping to get a “home court advantage,” BP has asked the government body overseeing the Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) to consolidate many of the suits in Houston. “It’s the epicenter of the oil and gas business worldwide,” said Louisiana lawyer Daniel Becnel, who has already filed multiple suits against BP. “Almost every one of those judges there would be related in some way to the oil industry.”
Plaintiffs’ lawyers are hoping the cases will be combined in New Orleans, which has experienced the vast majority of environmental and economic damages caused by the spill, and could therefore be more sympathetic to claims of personal injury or loss of business against BP. Already, six of the twelve judges in the New Orleans based federal judicial district have removed themselves from BP oil spill cases due to conflicts of interest.
At least to the public, BP is playing the good Samaritan, saying it will pay whatever is necessary to fix the spill, and keeping mum on the government’s $75 million liability cap. “We are well prepared to spend more than that $75 million,” said BP spokesmen Jon Pack. “We already have.” Transocean, BP’s partner at Deepwater Horizon, emerged this week as another easy target when it announced that it would rely on an antiquated 1851 law to limit its liability at $27 million. The Obama administration has already said it will challenge the move.
So needless to say, challenges to BP have the potential to dwarf the state and national lawsuits against Toyota. We’ll keep you posted on developments as they relate to mass tort litigation, and BP’s liability dance.
Photo credit: USCGD8