In the Best Interest of the Spill Victims


The Wall Street Journal – citing me and a handful of other Gulf-area attorneys – is outlining a shift in legal strategy that deserves some additional attention. The WSJ correctly points out that some of us who are suing BP are now “…moving instead to redirect dozens of…clients to make claims to the $20 billion fund set up by BP and the Obama administration.”

The Journal goes on to say that “…while hundreds of people are still suing BP in federal court, the lawyers’ move could end up robbing that ongoing litigation of the critical mass of plaintiffs that might be needed to prove broad economic losses.”

We might object to the term “robbing” as we are merely looking out for our clients’ best interest. You have to understand that our goal was never to just “sue the bastards,” as much as we might enjoy that particular tactic. No, the goal is – and has to be – what’s best for our individual clients.

I’ve sued oil companies for decades. And you have to negotiate, and every single situation is different – family situations are different, time tables are different, economic resources are different. That’s one of the reasons I’ve, at times, expressed doubt that a massive class-action suit will actually hold up in the Gulf – when so many of the cases are so very different.

So will we negotiate with the Gulf Coast Claims Facility? Of course we will, because all my clients want is to be made whole and join former BP CEO (Tony What’s-his-name) in getting their lives back as best they can. And, as the WSJ notes, I’m guessing that other victims would accept settlements if they could secure a deal that makes sense for them.

As WSJ reporter Dionne Searcey points out, quoting a colleague, “some of these people can’t wait.” And there’s no reason, if a settlement makes sense, that they should wait. I should also note that my firm is charging our clients 10 percent of the negotiated settlements, a fraction of what we would have to charge to take those cases to court.

Let’s not forget that there are inherent risks to litigation – and the old adage “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” pertains. But make no mistake, if we can’t settle these cases for fair and just compensation for our clients, we will go to trial. And we are proceeding as such. We are continuing our scientific investigations to build the strongest possible foundation for litigation – and as an attorney who has won one of the largest verdicts ever against an oil company (i.e., Exxon) in the amount of $1.056 billion, I know what it takes to go all the way.

Do I think negotiated settlements could end up being a bargain for BP? Sure. But this is not about bargains, it’s about the best interest of the families and organizations we represent as lawyers – and that’s not just lawyers being nice, that’s the way the justice system works.

Read the WSJ piece here:

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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