BP wasted no time preparing for lawsuits

By MARC CAPUTO – McClatchy Newspapers


 In the immediate aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, BP publicly touted its expert oil-cleanup response, but it quietly girded for a legal fight that could soon embroil hundreds of attorneys, span five states and last more than a decade.

BP swiftly signed up experts who otherwise would work for plaintiffs. It shopped for top-notch legal teams. It presented volunteers, fishermen and potential workers with waivers, hoping they would sign away some of their right to sue.

Recently, BP announced it would create a $20 billion victim-assistance fund, which could reduce court challenges.

Robert J. McKee, an attorney with the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., firm of Krupnick Campbell Malone, was surprised by how quickly BP hired scientists and laboratories specializing in the collection and analysis of air, sea, marsh and beach samples — evidence that’s crucial to proving damages in pollution cases.

Five days after the April 20 blowout, McKee said, he tried to hire a scientist who’s assisted him in an ongoing 16-year environmental lawsuit in Ecuador involving Dupont.

“It was too late. He’d already been hired by the other side,” McKee said. “If you aren’t fast enough, you get beat to the punch.”

Damage control

At the same time it was bolstering its legal team, BP was downplaying how much oil was spewing from the Deepwater Horizon well — something lawyers say is likely to be a critical factor in both court decisions and government fines.

“The rate we’re seeing today is considerably lower, considerably lower, than what was occurring when you saw the rig on fire,” BP America’s chief operating officer, Doug Suttles, told NBC Nightly News on April 25, three days after the Deepwater Horizon sank.

BP would stick to low estimates of how much oil was leaking — first, 42,000 gallons a day, then 210,000 gallons a day — until the Obama administration stepped in under congressional pressure nearly a month later and set up an independent commission of scientists to determine the flow.

In mid-June the so-called Flow Rate Technical Group said the well is gushing 1,470,000 to 2,520,000 gallons a day — but the delay and imprecision of that estimate will make how much oil escaped into the gulf a matter of debate for years.

Slipping in waivers

In the early days after the spill BP also included a liability waiver in the paperwork it gave fishermen and prospective workers.

Read more: http://www.sunherald.com/2010/07/03/2307979/bp-wasted-no-time-preparing-for.html#ixzz0siNllI3E

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