Against the wishes of Gov. Bob Riley, Alabama Attorney General Troy King filed lawsuits late Thursday afternoon against BP PLC and several other companies, accusing them of negligence and reckless behavior in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
King seeks unspecified damages in the suits, filed in U.S. District Court in Montgomery.
BP spokesman Ray Melick said that the company hadn’t seen the litigation and “certainly can’t comment” until it does.
The lawsuit immediately drew the ire of Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon, who protested that King never consulted him or Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft. The spill has pounded the tourist economy in the two beach cities.
“Considering we’re the two biggest losers in the state, you’d think he’d pick up the phone,” Kennon said Thursday night. “All I can say is he’d better not mess up what we’ve been working our tails off for, which is getting claims paid for the people who live down here.”
Alabama appears to be the first state to sue BP, although pension funds from New York and Ohio have done so.
A spokesman for Riley said Thursday evening that the governor believes the state should have first presented a claim to BP before going to court.
“The reason you sue is because there’s a dispute,” spokesman Todd Stacy said. “Right now, there’s no dispute.”
If BP failed to pay the state’s claim, Stacy added, Riley then would favor “aggressive litigation.”
He said, “We may end up in court. It would not surprise the governor. … But until we submit a bill to BP, it’s premature to take them to court.”
King said in a written statement Thursday that BP has spent millions on public relations, but has not followed through on promises to accept responsibility for the disaster.
“Some will, no doubt, sound the alarm that the lawsuit is premature,” King said. “As Alabama’s lawyer, I say that, if anything … further delay can only further damage our people.”
Alabama has not submitted a claim to BP, but the state is in the process of analyzing losses and calculating a final amount, Stacy said.
“At that point, the state will send the bill to BP,” Stacy said. “We can’t send it until we know exactly what our best estimation is of what Alabama taxpayers lost.”
BP owns the majority stake in the well that spilled about 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf following the April 20 explosion that destroyed the Deepwater Horizon rig. The spill has been effectively stopped since July 15.
One of King’s lawsuits named BP and its affiliates as defendants. The other named several companies that were involved in the well or the drilling process — Transocean Ltd., Halliburton Energy Services Inc., Anadarko Petroleum Corp., Mitsui & Co., and Cameron International Corp.
King said in his statement that BP’s recent sale of assets in North America and Egypt for $7 billion to Apache Corp. might be a way to limit the amount of money that U.S. courts could reach to satisfy any judgments.
He also said that BP is “secretly working to gain a legal advantage” by preparing a report to argue that it was not grossly negligent in the spill.
King’s lawsuits claim that the defendants were guilty of a laundry list of faulty actions that led to the spill, including:
Failing to install a remote acoustic switch to prevent oil from leaking into the Gulf.
Inadequately training personnel.
Failing to follow rules and regulations in operating the rig.
Failing to react to danger signs on the rig.
Misrepresenting the size of the disaster.
Using dangerous chemical dispersants in the cleanup.