Editor's note: This story has been modified since its original publication.
The plaintiffs bar is starting to circle the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. And one of the first lawyers to court is Daniel Becnel Jr., who is also caught up in Toyota's unintended-acceleration litigation.
Becnel, who has several cases pending against Toyota and is vying for the job of lead plaintiffs counsel in that multidistrict litigation, filed a class action on Thursday over damages caused by the drilling rig that exploded on April 20.
The suit, Cooper v. BP plc, was filed in the Eastern District of Louisiana on behalf of Louisiana shrimpers, fishermen and commercial boaters who claim the oil spill is hurting their livelihood. The class, however, may grow. Becnel said he's been bombarded with phone calls from commercial boaters and fishermen in Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Texas -- all of them saying the oil has spread to their locations and it's shutting down their businesses.
"Every hour, it's going to get bigger," Becnel said of the class, noting high winds are pushing the oil slick. "They don't know where the hell it's going."Becnel filed his lawsuit hours after U.S. Coast Guard officials announced that the now-sunken rig was likely leaking 5,000 barrels of oil a day, not 1,000 barrels as was initially reported.
The lawsuit alleges that the defendants "knew of the dangers associated with deep water drilling and failed to take appropriate measures to prevent damage."
The defendants include BP, which holds the lease permitting drilling at the site of the accident, and Transocean Ltd., which owned and operated the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.
The lawsuit also named Halliburton Energy Services Inc. and Cameron International Corp. Halliburton was engaged in "cementing operations of the well and well cap." The suit alleges that Halliburton was negligent in performing that work, increasing pressure at the well and contributing to the fire. Cameron manufactured and/or supplied the rig's blow-out preventers that should have stopped the oil spill but allegedly failed to operate when the explosion occurred.
Officials with BP, Transocean, Halliburton and Cameron were not available to comment on the suit. BP Group Chief Executive Tony Hayward has said in a statement, "We are determined to do everything in our power to contain this oil spill and resolve the situation as rapidly, safely and effectively as possible. ... There should be no doubt of our resolve to limit the escape of oil and protect the marine and coastal environments from its effects."
Other plaintiffs firms jumped into the oil rig class action with Becnel. Ten firms were listed on the initial complaint, including The Cochran Firm in Dothan, Ala.; Kennedy & Madonna in Hurley, N.Y.; and Pensacola, Fla.'s Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Echsner, Rafferty & Proctor.