Mexico Could Join Lawsuits Over Gulf Oil Disaster

October 1, 2010

Mexico’s federal government could join a list of its states suing the companies blamed for the disastrous Gulf oil spill, claiming damage to fishing and tourism, the plaintiffs’ attorney said this week.

Earlier this month, three Mexican states sued British oil giant BP and its contractors Transocean, as well as affiliated businesses.

The northern state of Tamaulipas — which shares a border with Texas — and Veracruz with its long coastline on the Gulf of Mexico, both said the spill posed risks to beaches and marine life that would cause lost profits and potentially large clean-up bills.

Quintana Roo on the Yucatan Peninsula, home to major tourist destinations like Cancun, also filed suit in a Texas court on Sept. 15.

“We expect the rest of the (Mexican) Gulf states will join the endeavor and potentially … Mexico,” said lawyer Enrique Serna, whose San Antonio-based practice represents the states.

The lawsuits are believed to be the first by foreign governments against the petroleum giant BP and its contractors in the aftermath of April’s Deepwater Horizon rig explosion and ensuing oil spill, Serna said.

More than 300 civil lawsuits have already been filed in the United States by out-of-work rig workers, fishermen and hotel workers, and that number is expected to increase.

Mexico’s federal government has been studying the viability of a legal claim against BP, the environment minister told Reuters in an interview in June, adding that the remnants of the oil spill could hit Mexico’s shores next month.

As of August, the government of Mexico had spent about $35 million monitoring the spill, according to media reports.

“It is only natural for them to sue BP and the rest of the corporate defendants to reclaim such sums,” Serna said.

“There are a number of damages that eventually we’ll be able to quantify but only time will tell,” he said.

Serna said he also expects more than 1,500 individual claimants in Mexico — from fishermen to restaurant operators who have been forced to pay more for fish from Pacific waters — to eventually press claims.

A spokeswoman for Halliburton said the allegations appeared to be without merit, but BP and Transocean declined to comment.

BP has set up a $20 billion fund to compensate those who lost livelihoods or income due to the spill, but it excludes foreign claimants. The company has paid out over $240 million thus far and has said it will add to the size of the fund if necessary.

U.S. District Court Judge Carl Barbier was recently named to navigate the vast array of claims prompted by the spill that some expect to be among the costliest and most complex litigation in U.S. history.

(Editing by Eric Walsh)

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