By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
As oil continues to gush from a severed pipeline on the Gulf of Mexico seabed, a consortium of law firms stretching from Fort Lauderdale to Texas is preparing for its own kind of cleanup.
The first wave of more than a half-dozen lawsuits landed in federal court in New Orleans last week – one week after the disaster began with an explosion and fire aboard the oil rig Deepwater Horizon 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana. The rig sank two days later.
“I suspect there will be thousands of lawsuits,” said Broward lawyer Walter G. “Skip” Campbell, who plans to file suit this week in New Orleans on behalf of gulf shrimp and oyster farmers.
To date, authorities have said they can’t choke off the flow of an estimated 210,000 gallons of oil a day that’s pouring from the damaged pipe and rising nearly a mile to the surface. An enormous, still-growing oil slick threatens economic interests and wildlife habitat for hundreds of miles of coastline from Louisiana to Florida.
According to Campbell, the unfolding environmental calamity spells the end of a way of life for those who make their living harvesting gulf shrimp and oysters.
“These folks are the Forrest Gumps. This is going to decimate [their] industry…for life. This is crude oil, and it will get into the beds where the shrimp breed,” Campbell said.
Closer to home, he said, the disaster also means the end of the line for the bounty of superb gulf seafood enjoyed by consumers.
“That’s what I’m telling you. Shrimp and oysters will be coming from other ports of the world,” said Campbell.
Campbell, a former Democratic state senator from Coral Springs, is a name partner at Fort Lauderdale’s Krupnick, Campbell, Malone, Buser, Slama, Hancock, Liberman & McKee. The firm is among about a dozen law firms that have banded together to prosecute civil cases on behalf of the spill’s economic victims. Other attorneys at his firm who are working on the case are Michael J. Ryan and Robert J. McKee.
Campbell said that as the spill spreads it may be necessary to file suits in other cities.
Campbell said his law firm was invited to join the team because of its experience in so-called mass tort cases. The firm has won large verdicts in Broward against E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co. on behalf of Ecuadoran shrimp farmers who claimed runoff containing its fungicide Benlate ruined production.
Economic losses for all those impacted by the spill will be in the “multi-billions,” Campbell said.
“In the Panhandle they’re already starting to lose tourist bookings. Then there’s the cruise ship industry that traverses out of New Orleans. And all the little businesses,” he said.
Where will the money to pay those damages come from? The deepest pocket is BP PLC, which leased the rig from Transocean Ltd., an offshore drilling contractor.
“BP is going to pay and the only question is whether it is going to essentially be bankrupted,” said Campbell. “But remember, they made $8 billion to $10 billion in profit the first quarter of this year.”