Six years ago this month, the American people bore witness to the most devastating environmental disaster in United States history. Just off the coast of Louisiana on the night of April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig was completing drilling operations when a number of catastrophic explosions ripped through the drilling rig. Eleven people died that night. The fireballs from the explosion were so large that fishermen observed them from miles away. Two days after the explosion, the rig – a once-hailed technological marvel – sank into the depths of the Gulf of Mexico.
During the following days, attention quickly shifted to whether the rig or the well was leaking oil. Initially BP claimed there was no leak. But later BP estimates on the spillage, which initially was 1,000 gallons, ballooned to tens of thousands of barrels of oil per day. Gulf Coast residents watched helplessly as efforts during the following weeks to cap the well failed. Plumes of oil were so massive they were visible from outer space. Fishermen, hired to participate in the oil spill cleanup, were so taken aback by the miles of oil-covered ocean that some committed suicide upon returning to port.
Oil began hitting the barrier islands of Alabama in May 2010, and by around Memorial Day 2010, the oil slick came ashore – essentially ending Alabama’s Gulf Coast tourism season before it ever began. Businesses and individuals were devastated. Fishermen were left to clean up oil in order to put food on the table for their families. Local and state governments lost millions in tax revenues, and precious resources from Louisiana to Florida were heavily oiled. This was a disaster I never believed I would see in my lifetime.
For those of us that experienced the oil spill in 2010, it is a time we will never forget. Our firm started receiving phone calls from fishermen and seafood processors within just a few days after the oil spill. Within a week, the demand for legal representation skyrocketed. Our Environmental / Toxic Torts Section was tasked to manage the case for the firm. Rhon Jones, John Tomlinson, Chris Boutwell, Parker Miller and David Byrne (who now works in our Mass Torts Section) spent months away from their families helping clients hold on through the darkest days of the disaster.
Before the Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) was formed in New Orleans, Beasley Allen was one of the first firms to file a lawsuit against BP. By October of 2010, our lawyers had filed a number of lawsuits on behalf of those damaged by the oil spill. The firm was also hired to assist then Attorney General Troy King in the filing of Alabama’s lawsuit. This filing turned out to be extremely important to the outcome of the entire litigation.
In looking back over these past six years, I am very proud of the work our firm did in this once-in-a-lifetime case. Rhon Jones was appointed as a member of the oil spill Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee (PSC), and he tirelessly worked on almost every facet of the litigation. Parker Miller served as Rhon’s second chair on the committee, and was involved in numerous PSC initiatives in New Orleans. John Tomlinson became a major contributor to the unprecedented economic assessment and was intricately involved in the negotiations that led to the landmark multi-billion dollar private economic settlement. Chris Boutwell played a key role in the PSC’s environmental assessment, the vetting of environmental experts, and the property damage frameworks of the private settlement.
The work of our lawyers and support staff helped the PSC ultimately reach a settlement with BP that has paid private claimants billions of dollars. Our lawyers have represented in excess of 4,000 private claimants in the claims process, and they helped recover tens of millions of dollars in compensation for our clients.
We also were the leading private firm behind the State of Alabama’s litigation with BP and others. Rhon Jones supervised that effort and led settlement negotiations for the State. Parker Miller spearheaded the day-to-day litigation efforts for Alabama against BP. Rhon and Parker, along with Beasley Allen lawyers Jenna Fulk and Rick Stratton, were deputized as Deputy Attorneys General for the State of Alabama to handle the litigation for the state. The hard-fought $2.3 billion settlement for Alabama represents arguably the most significant settlement in Alabama’s history. In addition to the Alabama case, Rhon Jones and Grant Cofer, another of our lawyers, represented numerous local governments located across the Gulf States and they obtained very good settlements for these clients.
It is important to note that the primary lawyers involved in the BP litigation have been supported by other lawyers and staff in our firm over the course of the effort. Ryan Kral, William Sutton, Rick Stratton and Jeff Price have worked, and continue to work. many long hours in this litigation. They have played a major role in the recoveries obtained for the clients. Other lawyers have also played important roles on behalf of the firm’s private clients, including Jenna Fulk, Will Fagerstrom, Evan Loftis, Bea Sellers, and Ben Gibbons. We also have talented legal assistants, secretaries, and other administrative staff who played a key role in our efforts and were instrumental in helping obtain justice for our clients in this important matter.
With the oil spill litigation now drawing to a close in New Orleans, I would be remiss if I did not mention the outstanding work the Judges and their staff did in this litigation. The oil spill MDL is arguably the largest, most complex MDL in United States history. Judge Carl Barbier and Judge Sally Shushan, along with their staffs, deserve tremendous credit for their hard and effective work. To reach the point where we can begin to say that major litigation is coming to an end in only six years is simply incredible. By comparison, the Exxon Valdez oil spill litigation took decades to resolve. Achieving a record settlement – in record time – is a tremendous accomplishment and it will be recorded historically in that manner. We are humbled and also proud to have been a part of this matter.
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