NEW ORLEANS, June 28 /PRNewswire/ -- It has been two months since the explosion and subsequent sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig caused massive amounts of crude oil to begin leaking into the Gulf of Mexico, and in that time, industry across the Gulf Coast has been affected, from the commercial fishing industry to tourism to food distribution.
As a region known for its cuisine, the Gulf Coast restaurant industry – particularly the seafood industry – has been the focus of international attention, and in May, several restaurants from Louisiana and Florida filed a class action suit against BP, plc, BP Products North America, Inc., and BP America, Inc., whom the U.S. Coast Guard identified as the "responsible party," according to the Oil Pollution Act.
The class action was originally filed on May 18 on behalf of several plaintiffs who are restaurant owners and others in the seafood service industry in Louisiana and Florida who have or will suffer lost profits as a result of the subsequent oil spill following the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. Over the course of the past month, several more restaurants in Texas and Arkansas have joined the action, proving just how vast this spill has become.
The named plaintiffs include restaurants and seafood wholesalers in Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas and Florida. Louisiana plaintiffs include Franky and Johnny's; Tello's Bistro; Zeke's Restaurant; Cafe Maspero; Pete's Restaurant; Red River Grill; Crazy Lobster restaurant; Poppy's Seafood Factory restaurant; Roy Marris Seafood; New Orleans Fish House, LLC; Eleven 79 Restaurant; and wholesale distributer P.A. Menard, Inc.
In Florida, restaurants include Poppy's Crazy Lobster of Destin, Poppy's Time Out Sports Bar & Grill of Orlando and Poppy's Dancin' Iguana of Destin. New to the Class Action are several Kelley's Country Cookin' locations throughout Texas and Arkansas' Big Bayou Market and Who Dat's, Inc.
New Orleans' signature restaurants K-Paul's, Brigtsen's and Charlie's Seafood have also intervened.
As a Class Action, the claim has been filed on behalf of the named plaintiffs as well as all individuals or businesses that own and/or operate restaurants and/or wholesale seafood distributors located in those states that touch and/or border on the Gulf of Mexico.
The action states that, due to the dangerous environmental contamination as a result of the oil leak, "fishing, shrimping, oystering and other commercial activities have been suspended, and will likely continue to be legally and/or effectively reduced," therefore causing a loss of revenue and earning capacity for these restaurants.
Stephen Herman of New Orleans-based law firm Herman, Herman, Katz & Cotlar (www.hhkc.com), is the attorney for the Plaintiffs. The firm's position is that restaurants and others in the food service industry who suffer economic losses due to the oil spill are covered by the 1990 Oil Pollution Act (OPA), and therefore the firm is seeking a formal judgment from the Court to set the standard for appropriate claims.
"While good fresh, local seafood is still available, and we are hopeful that BP will cap the well and things will return to normal," explains Herman, "prices have already begun to rise, and there is a significant risk that loss of tourism and oil services jobs will diminish the customer base. Depending on the long-term environmental effects, these restaurants also face the risk of losing customers as a result of higher prices and limited availability."
BP has recently hired Washington-based attorney Kenneth Feinberg as their oil spill claims manager charged with the task of speeding up payments to businesses and individuals who are losing income as a direct result of the oil rig accident and subsequent spill. He will focus on claims from individuals and businesses for economic loss and will likely be using the standards set by OPA as a guide. Feinberg is in the process of developing standards and procedures for the submission of claims to the fund.
Stephen Herman and his firm are trying to work with Feinberg and BP to shape the elements of the ICF program.
"The key," says Herman, "is making sure that this fund provides commercial fisherman, oyster lease holders, restaurant owners, hotel owners and others with the relief to which they are entitled, without compromising or limiting the right to appeal or other claims that they may have. For example, some affected property owners and fishermen may have claims for punitive or other damages against parties other than BP - Transocean, for example, or Halliburton. We will have to wait and see the details, but we would likely have to advise our clients not to participate in a process where they might not get the relief to which they are entitled under the Oil Pollution Act, if, in order to participate, they would have to waive or release such claims."
The class action suit alleges that BP "knew of the dangers associated with deep water drilling and failed to take appropriate measures to prevent damage to Plaintiffs, Louisiana's and the Gulf of Mexico's marine and coastal environments and estuarine areas, and the Coastal Zone."
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SOURCE Herman, Herman, Katz & Cotlar