Gulf Coast states are gearing up to follow shrimpers and hotel owners in seeking payouts from BP PLC for lost revenue and other damages stemming from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
The demands could far exceed the $305 million BP has already given the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida to help pay cleanup costs, promote tourism and begin building sand berms off the coast of Louisiana, state officials say. Lawyers advising the states said they would eventually seek multi-billion dollar payouts, but it was still too early to give a tally.
BP declined to comment on the states' legal strategies. The British oil company agreed nearly two weeks ago to honor claims for damages and lost business revenue from individuals and businesses through a $20 billion, independent compensation fund administered by Kenneth Feinberg, the Washington, D.C.,-based lawyer and arbitration expert.
The fund is also meant to cover payments for states and localities to defray cleanup costs, but not necessarily claims for the larger economic damages that Florida and the other states plan to present directly to BP, the state's representatives said.
"We don't want to in anyway diminish that fund," said Steve Yerrid, an attorney picked by Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican, as a special counsel for the oil spill. Yerrid met Friday with Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum to discuss the state's strategy. "We are looking at much more global and larger losses to the state, which would be covered separately," he said.
Yerrid is assembling a team of private attorneys to prepare for what he predicts will be "a very large reparations request." The other Gulf states have similar efforts underway—and have held talks with each other—although the legal strategies among them differ.
Florida intends to seek payments from BP to cover lost tax revenue, unemployed workers and other damages to the state's coastal economy, Yerrid said.