Controversial presentation on creating 'legacy lawsuits' uncovered

Kyle Barnett May 11, 2012, 8:46am

BATON ROUGE, La. (Legal Newsline) - A video has recently surfaced that shows a consultant advising a group of trial lawyers to find the defendants with deep pockets when pursuing a "legacy lawsuit."

Consultant Bill Griffin, speaking at the South Texas College of Law, Energy Institute for Attorneys and Landmen Sept. 7-8, 2006, encouraged attorneys to go after the wealthiest defendants and compared legacy cases to winning the lottery.

"Those top lawsuits are big money, hot topic, big issues in Louisiana," said Griffin. "Now I also say it is like wining the lottery because that is the plan with these legacy lawsuits."

Griffin also advocated not getting into cases with small producers alone.

"Why sue someone and prevail if they are just going to turn around go belly up? So we've got to look for those deep pockets," said Griffin.

A two minute excerpt of Griffin's half-hour presentation was recently obtained by the American Tort Reform Association. The presentation systematically laid out how trial attorneys should scour aerial photos to identify dump pits at former drilling sites, as well as use naturally occurring disturbances in the environment related to salt domes to make it seem like naturally occurring mineral deposits were the fault of oil producers.

"When I find these things maybe I am just going to pretend the oil companies did it, not the salt domes. It's tough to name god as a defendant. The oil companies did it," said Griffin.

Griffin, a former plaintiff's expert witness, made the comments in 2006 just as the state of Louisiana passed reform laws to obligate a significant portion of money from these lawsuits to environmental remediation. On its website, ATRA claims plaintiff's lawyers sought ways "to use the law unfairly for their own gain."

Melissa Landry, Executive Director of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch called the video astounding and said a recent article on the issue by the Heritage Foundation should bring more attention to legacy lawsuit reform.

"As the legislative debate over legacy lawsuits reaches a boiling point, this article puts Louisiana back in the national spotlight and adds more fuel to the argument that our system for handling these abusive suits is broken, and our state leaders need to fix it now," said Landry.

A video excerpting parts of the presentation can be found here:

A pdf of the slide presentation can be found here:

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