Florida sues BP, Halliburton
$5.4 billion for revenue lost in oil ...
Collier and Lee counties have sued BP, Transocean and Halliburton Energy Services to recoup economic losses caused by the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
They contend their gross negligence caused the destruction of natural resources, decreased property values and lost revenues.
The counties filed the lawsuits late Friday in U.S. District Court in Fort Myers, a day before the three-year anniversary of the oil spill. The state of Florida filed its lawsuit in the Northern District on Saturday, the last day lawsuits could be filed due to the three-year statute of limitations.
“Like much of the west coast of Florida, Collier County suffered significant loss to its tourism industry and related revenue as a result of the spill,” said Collier County Attorney Jeffrey Klatzkow.
The Collier and Lee lawsuits were filed by attorneys who specialize in BP “tag along” cases, the multidistrict litigation.
BP Spokesman Scott Dean said Wednesday that the company had no comment.
The counties were among 70 parties, including Lee Memorial Health Systems, restaurants, hotels, cities, banks and businesses that filed lawsuits in U.S. District Court’s Middle District of Florida, which covers 35 counties. Hundreds were filed nationally.
The oil spill began with the blowout of BP’s Macondo undersea well in the Gulf of Mexico near Louisiana. That prompted an explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon, an offshore drilling rig owned by Transocean Ltd. and leased by BP PLC, which was in charge of containment.
Considered the nation’s worst environmental disaster, the blast killed 11 workers and caused 172 million gallons of petroleum to spew into the Gulf, causing oil and tar balls to wash up on beaches, fish and wildlife to die, tourism to dwindle, and businesses to lose customers. No tar balls hit Collier beaches.
Collier, Lee and Lee Memorial were excluded from the $7.8 billion Dec. 21 BP settlement agreement reached in federal court in Louisiana, an agreement that covered people and businesses in western Florida, some Gulf waters and bays, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and some eastern Texas coastal counties.
Although BP estimates it will pay $7.8 billion in economic losses and medical claims, there is no cap.
The settlement excluded federal government lawsuits, claims filed by Louisiana and Alabama and others against Halliburton and Transocean. It also didn’t include claims by banks, casinos, private plaintiffs in Florida and Texas and residents and businesses that alleged they were harmed by the Obama administration’s moratorium on deep-water drilling, which the spill prompted.
The settlement, which staved off years of litigation, came a month after BP Exploration and Production Inc. pleaded guilty to manslaughter and other offenses, agreeing to pay $4 billion in criminal penalties in what the U.S. Department of Justice called the largest criminal case resolution in U.S. history.
Testimony in the first phase of the civil litigation ended April 17 after 29 days. U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier gave the government, private plaintiffs’ attorneys, Transocean Ltd. and Halliburton, the cement contractor, 60 days to submit briefs.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys argued BP sacrificed safety and cut corners, rushing to finish a drilling project that was behind schedule and was millions over budget. BP agreed it made mistakes that led to the blowout, but denies being grossly negligent, arguing that Transocean and Halliburton must share blame.
BP’s payout could soar if the judge agrees that BP acted with gross negligence before the blowout. Under the Clean Water Act, polluters can be forced to pay at least $1,100 per barrel of spilled oil, but fines can grow to roughly $4,300 a barrel if a company is ruled to be grossly negligent. For BP, that’s nearly $18 billion in penalties.
The first phase of the nonjury trial was intended to identify causes of the blowout and determine which companies were at fault. Testimony in the second phase, set for September, will determine how much oil spilled and BP’s efforts to stop it.
Lee County’s lawsuit mirrors Collier’s. Lee Memorial’s lawsuit seeks unspecified economic and compensatory damages.
Others filed by local businesses include the now defunct Lazy Lizard and Towne Place/UCA LLC, both of Naples, and Gan of Bonita Springs. The City of Naples opted not to sue, but others did, including Sanibel, Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota, Manatee and Pinellas counties, and Hillsborough county commissioners.
The lawsuits are separate from funds Collier, Lee and 19 other Florida counties expect to receive from the RESTORE ACT, the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunity and Revived Economics of the Gulf States Act of 2011.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.