Mississippi, Florida AGs Putting Pressure on BP

June 11, 2010

Attorneys general in Florida and Mississippi are upping the political pressure on BP over the oil gusher that is threatening their states and the entire Gulf Coast.

Florida Attorney General McCollum sent a letter to BP asking the company to deposit no less than $2.5 billion into an interest-earning escrow account so Florida can be assured of its availability over the long-term recovery period.

“Based on recent estimates from an economist, Florida could ultimately see losses as great as $2.2 billion, as well as a sharp decline in employment in the industries directly impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill,” wrote McCollum. “As Florida braces for what will likely be a staggering blow to its economy with significant impacts to our state’s workforce and the revenues of the state and local governments, it is essential that BP establish immediately a dedicated escrow account solely for the purpose of paying claims and damages to Florida and its citizens.”

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood is among the other coastal state attorneys general including Alabama’s Troy King who has demanded that no claimants to the claims payment fund established by BP be required to sign a waiver of their right to sue later and that BP waive the $75 million statutory liability cap.

BP has agreed to these demands and, thus far, has paid $5.5 million for 4,034 claims in Mississippi, according to Hood.

The AGs of five coastal states have also asked BP to retain any and all documents related to the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion for use in future investigations.

Hood said he is also taking steps to protect claimants should his state have to file a suit against BP by demanding that BP agree not to attempt to remove the case to federal court. “We want the claims made by the state of Mississippi to be decided by a Mississippi state court. We do not want a dime more than we are entitled to, but I also will not take a dime less,” said Hood.

BP and Transocean have filed actions before federal judges in Houston, Texas, in an attempt to move all claims by individuals, businesses, and the state and federal governments into a foreign jurisdiction.

Hood said that the insurance industry “abused the federal court system” to delay the state court suit which he filed within two weeks of Hurricane Katrina.

“It took Mississippi four years to bring the issue before our Mississippi Supreme Court, where it rightfully belonged,” he said.

This past October the court ruled in the attorney general’s favor, 9 to 0, but Hood said it was a “hollow victory” because by that time most everyone already had settled.

“I will fight to make sure the oil companies do not abuse the federal system to delay justice due the people of Mississippi. If the 11th Amendment to our United States Constitution has any meaning left, it is that state claims should be litigated in our state courts,” said Hood.

In recent testimony before the Congressional House Judiciary Committee, Hood proposed legislation to prohibit companies from seeking to drag claims filed by the states into federal court.

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