About 200 plaintiffs’ lawyers gathered at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel on May 20 in Orlando, Fla., for what was billed as the “First Nationwide BP Oil Spill Litigation Conference.” The event was advertised for “plaintiff counsel only,” and organizers were strict about keeping defense lawyers out of the conference. Attorneys got a reminder warning when registering that defense counsel weren’t invited, and an announcement was made at the start of the program that defense attorneys were not permitted to attend.
The reason: The lawyers were “sharing strategic information about how to represent plaintiffs,” said John Romano, co-chairman of the conference and a partner at West Palm Beach, Fla.’s Roman Law Group. Put less mildly, this was a war council, where battle plans were being considered as plaintiffs’ firms launch a full-scale assault on the four companies that are behind the massive oil spill that continues to foul waters off the Gulf Coast.
Defense lawyers will have their own session in Houston from Aug. 12 to 14, though at least one plaintiffs’ attorney is expected to give a presentation. “We hope they [plaintiffs' lawyers] show up,” said Henry Sneath, first vice president at the Defense Research Institute, which is sponsoring the event.
It’s not even clear yet how much money will be at stake in the litigation erupting around the Gulf spill. “Even if they stopped [the leak] today, it would still take several, several, several months to try to assess all the damage,” said Winston Thompson III of the Jackson, Miss., office of The Cochran Firm, which along with a consortium of law firms has filed multiple lawsuits on behalf of fishermen and business owners. But both sides are obviously girding for a huge piece of multidistrict litigation that could, like the suits stemming from the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska, drag on for years. BP PLC officials say that, to date, the company has paid some $15 million in claims. At least 110 lawsuits have been filed against the four primary companies involved in the spill: BP, Transocean Ltd., Halliburton Energy Services Inc. and Cameron International Corp.
Dozens of plaintiffs’ firms from across the country have jumped into the fray, from Herman Herman Katz & Cotlar and Salas L.C. in New Orleans; Becnel Law Firm in Reserve, La.; Neblett, Beard & Arsenault in Alexandria, La.; Buzbee Law Firm in Houston; Brent Coon & Associates of Beaumont, Texas; and Baron & Budd in Dallas — firms in the neighborhood, so to speak — to Hill, Peterson, Carper, Bee & Deitzler in Charleston, W.Va.; Weitz & Luxenberg in New York; Kennedy & Madonna in Hurley, N.Y.; and Parker Waichman Alonso of New York. On the defense side, BP has tapped a team from Chicago’s Kirkland & Ellis — including J. Andrew Langan, Richard Godfrey and Matthew Regan — and Scott Brister of Houston’s Andrews Kurth.
To help readers keep score, The National Law Journal has compiled data about the bulk of the cases filed since the spill began on April 20, including venue, plaintiffs, case number and the attorneys involved. For more on spill litigation, stay tuned to NLJ.com.
CHART: THE GULF SPILL SCORECARD: Our list of the lawsuits that have been filed to date over the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
SPREADING FAST: A TIMELINE OF LITIGATION OVER THE GULF OF MEXICO OIL SPILL