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BP facing lawsuit over handling of oil spill cleanup

A lawsuit [complaint, PDF] was filed Tuesday against BP in a Louisiana state court alleging that the company's negligent actions led to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] and that BP was also negligent in its handling of the cleanup of the oil spill. The plaintiffs contend that BP assumed responsibility for the health and safety of the local cleanup workers hired by the company but failed to provide them with adequate training, protective equipment, decontamination equipment and instructions to help them conduct the cleanup in a safe manner. Plaintiff John Wunstell, a former shrimper, alleges that he was hospitalized after being exposed to the chemical dispersants used to clean the oil, and that he is now at a greater risk of developing lung and esophageal cancer due to his exposure to the chemicals. Plaintiffs also contend that they were required to use their own boats to conduct cleanup efforts and that the boats are now damaged, threatening their future ability to earn a living through commercial fishing. Plaintiffs are seeking damages for current and future medical care, repair and detoxification of the fishing boats as well as damages for loss of earnings capacity. The complaint also includes a class action claim that would cover all workers or volunteers participating in the cleanup efforts who have shown symptoms including nausea, severe headaches, respiratory illness, increased liver enzymes and high blood pressure. The class action is seeking the establishment of a court-supervised medical monitoring program in order to provide early detection of diseases associated with the chemical exposure.

Calls for criminal and civil actions have been mounting against BP, as evidence of the oil giant's lack of proper compliance with regulations has come out. Last month, two lawsuits were filed against BP [JURIST report] alleging violations of the Rackteer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) [18 USC § 1961 et seq.] statute. The lawsuits allege that BP purposefully defrauded the American public in order increase company profits. Also last month, US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] announced that the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] is reviewing whether any criminal or civil laws were violated [JURIST report] by BP resulting in the oil spill. Holder cited several statutes being examined by government lawyers including the Clean Water Act and the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 [materials]. The Clean Water Act includes both civil and criminal penalties, and the Oil Pollution Act can be used to hold parties liable for cleanup costs. In May, DC-based consumer advocacy organization Food and Water Watch (FWW) [advocacy website] filed suit [JURIST report] in a US district court against the US Department of Interior (DOI) and the Minerals Management Service (MMS) [official websites] for an injunction to halt drilling at the BP Atlantis Facility [corporate website], another BP Gulf of Mexico site.

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