In the coming years--possibly decades--BP is sure to encounter an onslaught of lawsuits. Cases can be made for contractual, wrongful death and injury, environmental and commercial losses. There are thousands of potential plaintiffs confronted with different levels of economic harm. The oil spill also occurred in an area that is much more populated and economically active than Alaska, the site of the infamous Exxon Valdez spill.
As of now, 74 cases have been filed in federal courts, 38 of which were filed by the U.S. District Court of New Orleans. Several of these are wrongful death suits; others aim for class action certification. More will certainly arise as the spill hasn't actually finished spilling.
"You have petroleum products being released into a marine habitat, and there is no end in sight at this point in terms of the release," John G. Nevius, an environmental and insurance attorney in New York with Anderson, Kill & Olick, told The Times-Picayune. Leakage totaled 261,904 barrels, as of Wednesday. The oil is expected to be halted by July. On July 29, a panel of federal judges will meet in Boise, Idaho, to decide if all the lawsuits filed at that point should be consolidated into one large case in New Orleans, as most people harmed by the spill want, or in Houston, as BP has requested.
BP is responsible for cleanup costs in accordance with the Oil Pollution Act. It may seek contributions from others who may have contributed to the disaster, such as its corporate drilling partners. "The Oil Pollution Act established a $75 million cap on damages for economic losses, but it may be irrelevant, if the company in question has engaged in willful neglect, gross misconduct or violations of safety rules," Nathan Richardson, an attorney and visiting scholar at the Resources for the Future Foundation, told The Times-Picayune.