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Now come the shareholders. BP PLC’s investors are the latest plaintiffs to go to court over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, alleging the company has long put profits ahead of safety and now faces potentially billions in losses because of the ongoing disaster. The first such lawsuit — Firpo v. Hayward, a shareholder derivative suit brought by a Pennsylvania investor — was filed on May 7 in New Orleans federal court. It alleges BP executives and its board of directors “recklessly disregarded accidents and safety warnings for years” related to the Deepwater Horizon rig. The lawsuit accuses the defendants of breaching their fiduciary duties by, among other things, causing BP to violate safety and environmental laws, exposing the company to criminal and tort liability, and subjecting BP to adverse publicity and impaired earnings. A similar class action is set to be filed on May 11 in Montgomery, Ala., by 40-plus BP shareholders who contend the company’s allegedly poor safety record, coupled with the April 20 oil rig accident, could ultimately destroy the company. The oil spill has already triggered more than 70 civil lawsuits. “We’ve talked to a number of shareholders….Some people are hopeful. Some are sure they’re going to go down. And some are shocked that they have stock in a company that has such a terrible record,” said Jere Beasley of Montgomery’s Beasley Allen Crow Methvin Portis & Miles, which plans to file the proposed class action Tuesday morning. This would be the firm’s fifth oil spill lawsuit. “And we’ll be filing more,” said Beasley, noting the firm has eight lawyers assigned to oil spill litigation. Beasley said his firm learned from shareholders about BP’s safety violations. “The fact that they’ve short-cutted safety here is going to definitely affect the stock prices, more in the long run than in the short run,” he said. Similar allegations are made in the Louisiana shareholder suit, in which Katherine Firpo, a BP investor since 2007, alleges that the company hasn’t learned from past mistakes. Her complaint notes that a similar shareholder lawsuit was filed in 2006 after a fatal explosion at BP’s Texas City refinery and oil leaks at the company’s Alaska pipelines. That case settled out of court, but the company continued to ignore safety issues, the current complaint alleges. The complaint contends that the Deepwater Horizon oil rig itself had a history of problems. The suit alleges there were “numerous previous spills and fires” on the rig and points to “a 2008 incident where 77 persons were evacuated from the rig after it listed over and began to sink after a section of pipe was accidentally removed from the rig’s ballast system.” Firpo’s lawsuit alleges that, while BP executives made “purely cosmetic changes,” they lobbied state and federal agencies “to remove or decrease the extent of safety and maintenance regulation of the company’s Gulf operations, claiming, against all evidence, that ‘voluntary compliance’ would suffice to address safety and environmental concerns.” Firpo’s lawsuit is being handled by Kahn, Swick & Foti, which has offices in New York and New Orleans. Attorneys with the firm were not available for comment. In addition to BP, the Firpo suit also names as defendants Transocean Ltd., which owned the rig; Cameron International Corp., which provided the blowout prevention equipment that allegedly failed; and Halliburton Energy Services Inc., which cemented the well. Company officials at BP, Transocean and Cameron would not comment on the pending shareholder litigation. Halliburton said in a statement: “We continue to cooperate with ongoing investigations into the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig incident as well as assist in efforts to identify the factors that may have led up to the disaster, but it is premature and irresponsible to speculate on any specific causal issues.” Tresa Baldas can be contacted at [email protected].

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