Op-ed: King's oil spill suit a 'risky legal move'

Jessica M. Karmasek Aug. 17, 2010, 7:00am


BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (Legal Newsline) - Alabama Attorney General Troy King's lawsuit against oil giant BP could hurt the state, according to an editorial published in one of the state's newspapers Monday.

According to the Montgomery Advertiser editorial, King may have "jumped the gun" in filing the lawsuit against the company.

The attorney general filed two lawsuits Thursday, suing BP and others over the Gulf oil spill.

King, who says the oil company has broken too many promises about accepting responsibility for the disaster, filed the suits in federal court in Montgomery on behalf of the state.

The lawsuits -- one against BP and the other against Transocean, Halliburton and other companies associated with the spill -- seek economic and punitive damages. No specific amount was listed.

King announced last month he was preparing a lawsuit to make up for lost tax revenue. He described the spill as "the largest legal disaster ever encountered," and said the state would be working for years to rebuild its economy.

An explosion and fire occurred on Transocean's drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, licensed to BP, on April 20, killing 11 workers and resulting in the largest offshore spill in U.S. history.

The Advertiser editorial admits the prospect of the state going to court "has always been realistic." But the newspaper argues the state is still in the process of calculating the damages.

The editorial calls the lawsuit "a risky legal move."

"There will be plenty of time for litigation if BP balks at paying what the state demonstrates has been lost due to the oil spill," the paper writes.

The Advertiser also points to King's lame duck status. "King won't be around for any of the real legal work that would accompany a trial of BP, which obviously won't be taking place right away."

King lost in the primary election and is on his way out at the end of the year.

The editorial says the lawsuit is "chancy business," that the outcome is not predictable and the final resolution could end up taking years.

"Even if Alabama prevails, it might end up with less money and likely would get any money later rather than sooner," the Advertiser writes.

The newspaper suggests an out-of-court approach.

"Suppose BP looks at the bill the state presents, agrees that it is accurate, and pays it. Wouldn't that be a vastly preferable outcome to months and months, maybe even years, of courtroom wrangling? At the very least, it makes sense to give BP the opportunity to do so," according to the editorial.

The editorial also noted King's taking action against the wishes of Gov. Bob Riley, who also hoped to reach an out-of-court settlement with the companies.

"One can only hope this is not an act of nose-thumbing by King against Riley, who appointed King attorney general but who has had a contentious relationship with him in recent years," the newspaper wrote.

The attorney general, the Advertiser said, also filed the suit without consulting the mayors of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach -- the Alabama cities that represent the "epicenter of economic damage from the oil spill," it says.

The editorial continues, "King's lawsuits certainly cannot help the mayors' efforts. Whether his hasty action will have still greater implications remains to be seen."

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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