Miss. gov to AG: BP lawsuit would knot claims process

Jessica M. Karmasek Jul. 29, 2010, 3:10pm


JACKSON, Miss. (Legal Newsline) - Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour asked the state's Attorney General Jim Hood on Wednesday to refrain from filing a lawsuit against oil giant BP in the wake of the Gulf oil spill.

In a letter to Hood, Barbour asked him to wait until the claims process and the Natural Resource Damage Assessment have a chance to work. A lawsuit, the governor said, may interrupt the payment of claims.

"Undoubtedly, filing suit against BP now is not in the interests of Mississippi and its fishermen, shrimpers and charter boat captains, to name a few," Barbour wrote.

"I want those people and businesses with legitimate claims to recover their rightful damages; I want the state of Mississippi to recover for its economic losses and damages to restore any natural resources damaged by the spill.

"Premature litigation would benefit a handful of plaintiff lawyers in the long term but likely harm claimants who would otherwise be paid in the near term."

An explosion and fire occurred on Transocean's drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, licensed to BP, on April 20. It killed 11 workers and resulted in the largest offshore spill in U.S. history, topping the Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coast of Alaska in 1989.

Barbour pointed to the Exxon Valdez disaster as an example.

When Alaska decided to sue Exxon for recovery of damages caused by the disaster, Exxon ceased paying claims, he said.

"Given the number of claims, it is highly unlikely that all claims will be resolved without the need for litigation," Barbour wrote in the letter. "However, if you sue BP now, then, as happened in Alaska, the process that is currently paying claims on a regular basis may grind to a halt."

So far, BP has paid $65 million to the state to offset costs incurred by agencies and local governments and to aid tourism promotional campaigns, the governor's office said.

The governor and the attorney general's relationship is already on shaky ground, with Barbour writing Hood a forceful letter on Monday.

In the letter, he complained Hood sent a legal memo requested by Barbour to the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, which plans to open a casino in Jones County. Barbour wrote that the expects Hood's work product to be kept confidential because Hood is his lawyer.

Hood received criticism in 2005 when he filed a lawsuit against five insurance companies weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit his state.

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