JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood said Tuesday he hasn’t decided yet whether to file a state lawsuit against BP over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Hood said he’s taking time to evaluate possible claims for damages created by the spill or by chemicals used to break up the oil. He said determining the environmental impact on fish, for example, could take months or longer.
“We’re in no hurry to file any litigation,” Hood said.
Alabama’s attorney general sued BP last week.
Mississippi’s Republican Gov. Haley Barbour last month urged Hood, a Democrat, not to file any “premature” lawsuits against the company. Barbour said after Alaska sued over the Exxon Valdez spill, that state had trouble receiving help from the oil company.
Hood said Tuesday that BP is not acting on most oil-spill claims filed by people and private businesses in Mississippi. He said BP’s own statistics from last Thursday showed that 6,050 of 9,600 of the “actionable” Mississippi claims were still being evaluated. That’s 63 percent.
A BP spokeswoman said the company was preparing a response to Hood’s statement about the pending claims.
BP said it will stop accepting new claims after Wednesday. Government-appointed administrator Kenneth Feinberg will take over the process starting Aug. 23.
A news release from the Joint Operations Center on Tuesday said BP had paid 25,608 claims in Mississippi, worth $29.5 million.
Hood said he believes BP is making multiple payments on some claims to increase its numbers, and that the company is delaying decisions in Mississippi so it can say it hasn’t been denying claims.
“They’re just putting this off as part of their PR campaign,” Hood said in the AP interview. “It’s part of their strategy to preserve their brand.”
Hood said that based on BP’s statistics from last Thursday, the company had paid 363 of the 1,062 claims from rental property owners, 53 of the 213 claims from restaurant owners and 30 of 695 claims for boats.
In a July 29 news release, Barbour said: “I want those people and businesses with legitimate claims to recover their rightful damages; I want the state of Mississippi to recover for its economic losses and damages to restore any natural resources damaged by the spill. Premature litigation would benefit a handful of plaintiff lawyers in the long term but likely harm claimants who would otherwise be paid in the near term.”