As hundreds of lawsuits mount from all over the Gulf Coast against the energy giants involved with the Deepwater Horizon disaster, three of the largest law firms in Florida have been chosen to handle litigation for the biggest players involved in the oil spill.
Akerman Senterfitt, Florida’s largest law firm, landed BP. It will handle all its Florida civil litigation. Cameron International, manufacturer of the failed blowout preventer, snapped up the second-largest firm, Greenberg Traurig. Halliburton Energy Services, which pumped cement at the well, hired Broad and Cassel.
The fourth primary defendant is Transocean Deepwater, owner of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, who has retained Jaime Betbeze of Hand Arendall, a Mobile, Ala., attorney with a Florida Bar license.
Many predict Florida, whose already struggling economy is heavily dependent on the fishing industry and tourism, will be at the epicenter of litigation, topping Louisiana and Alabama with it’s 1,200 miles of coastline and 660 miles of beaches.
All eyes are on a multidistrict litigation panel, which will hear arguments in July to decide where the federal lawsuits should be consolidated. Not surprisingly, the oil industry is fighting for Texas, while plaintiff firms are pushing for Louisiana or Florida.
“Florida will sustain the greatest amount of damages due to the tourist-related dollars up and down Florida,” said David Rash of Alters Boldt Brown Rash & Culmo of Miami, one of the plaintiff firms involved in spill litigation.
The sheer number of lawsuits coupled with what will undoubtedly be massive settlements are expected to be a “year maker,” according to a former Akerman Senterfitt lawyer. Contracts to defend those responsible for the oil spill are predicted to be worth tens of millions of dollars, not to mention the potential for firms bringing individual civil and class action lawsuits to court on behalf of those effected by the spill.
Spiro Verras, a lawyer involved in the litigation, said more than 200 lawsuits have already been filed in federal courts across the Gulf Coast region.
In Florida, the potential number of plaintiffs is “enormous,” Verras said. “Our whole economy is built on the coastal areas,” he said.
Lawyers in various cities are lining up clients and filing class-action and single-plaintiff lawsuits, Verras said.
“It depends on who wants to get into the party,” Richard said. “It’s a little bit crazy.”