Lawsuits Over Gulf Spill Likely to Be Bloody, Long

6:27 PM, Jun 11, 2010   |    comments
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Gloved hands hold globs of oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill pulled from the water at Bay Long, Louisiana (AP)

The images of oil soaked birds and dead sea turtles confirm the poisonous effect of the gulf oil spill.

But there are other images too, of frightened and angry gulf residents whose livelihoods and lives depend on a healthy eco-system.

Their survival may rest on legal claims filed against BP. The battles over those claims are likely to be bloody and long.

It is often impossible to see where the Gulf of Mexico ends and the lives of these people begin. Over generations they have grown together. And now that one is so deeply wounded, so is the other.

If these people are to survive, they may not be able to wait on nature to heal the Gulf. They may have to rely on the law.

"They have a legal leg to stand on," said Emory University environmental law professor Bill Buzbee, "But whether it's a strong leg will be battled in the courts."

Buzbee has testified before Congress about the legal impact of gross pollution. He says the shrimpers and the commercial and recreational fishermen should be first in line.

"They are probably most likely to recover any claims against the polluters," Buzbee said. "The people who are directly affected and directly lose because of the pollution, they would have a pretty clear claim."

But what of the others who are connected to the gulf -- the people who sell marine fuel, the hotel and restaurant owners?

"Every time you move further and further back, then there's a possibility that the courts looking at this will say well, that's just too far," said Buzbee. 

The professor has seen this play out before.

"Even when a company says we'll make this right, it should be listened to very skeptically," he said.

The Supreme Court just ruled on a case last week involving the Exxon Valdez oil spill. That happened in 1989.


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