Florida is poised to forgo the April 20 deadline for filing a lawsuit against Transocean, the operator of the Deepwater Horizon rig that exploded a year ago, lawyers for the Attorney General Pam Bondi and Gov. Rick Scott said Tuesday.
Carlos Muñiz, deputy attorney general, said that the state's goal is to use the Oil Pollution Act to obtain damages from the BP oil spill and is "not likely to get involved" in the Transocean litigation, which has a filing deadline of Wednesday.
"The litigation that's the subject of a deadline tomorrow has absolutely nothing to do with compensating Florida and its taxpayers for the economic harm that they have suffered as a result of the oil spill,'' he said. After the deadline, "we will still have every legal right that's relevant to compensating the taxpayers that we have today.''
He said that the Oil Pollution Act does not apply to claims being filed against Transocean by other parties or by the state of Alabama. As of today, the state's of Louisiana and Mississippi are not joined the lawsuit against Transocean.
"Regardless of what other state's are doing, the attorney general and the governor are focused on getting the maximum recovery for Florida's taxpayers in the shortest possible time and we believe that the best way to do that is through the Oil Pollution Act claims process and, if necessary, filing litigation against BP," Muñiz said.
The OPA requires the state to present a claim directly to BP rather than go to court, he said. The attorney general, working with the governor's office, hopes to do that by filing an interim claim this in the summer, after they have gathered more information to assess the damages to the state. If that fails, the state will follow it with litigation against BP.
Muñiz said that the Transocean litigation is very limited and could expose the state to paying contingency fees to attorneys for little benefit. "That is not litigation that the state controls. It is being controlled by lawyers that we did not choose and would not be uniquely responsible to Florida,'' he said. By getting involved in the Transocean litigation, "we could possibly be exposing the state to attorneys fees that could be in the tens of millions, or eve hundreds of millions of dollars in exchange for no upside -- no benefit for the taxpayers of Florida."
He said the state has not entered negotiations with any private lawsuits to pursue a lawsuit.
"The governor and attorney general are focused on getting the maximum for taxpayers in the shortest possible time and we believe the best way to do that is through OPA,'' Muñiz said."The goal is to get the maximum recovery in the shortest possible time."
BP has written attorneys general in several states and has promised not to attempt to trigger the cap of paying out more than $20 billion in damages, said Charles Trippe, general counsel to Scott who is also working on the issue. "That issue is, for all purposes, resolved."
By failing to join the Transocean lawsuit, Florida stands apart from real estate giant, the St. Joe Company, which filed a lawsuit last October alleging that the company "failed to live up to its responsibilities" by not making necessary mechanical repairs to the rig, and by failing to conduct routine equipment inspections mandated by regulations on more than 300 pieces of equipment on the Deepwater Horizon."
The lawsuit also alleges that at the time of the disaster, the i blowout preventer -- the rig's last line of defense against the unchecked discharge of gas, oil, and other pollutants -- had not had an inspection in more than five years.
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