12 years later, BP still fighting hundreds of lawsuits over Deepwater Horizon spill

Published: Jul. 8, 2022 at 6:10 PM CDT
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MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - BP has spent billions of dollars since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, yet 12 years after the disaster, new lawsuits continue to pop up.

And it could be a while before they are resolved, according to lawyers involved in the cases.

“These cases take a while,” said Elsa De Lima, a Miami-based lawyer who was in Mobile Friday to talk to clients and other who believe they have claims. “You know, I get the question all the time. ‘How are you still litigating this case? This happened all the way in 2010.’”

The reason, De Lima said, is that the current round of litigation involves cancer and other diseases that take years to show up. And, she added, it takes a long time to gather evidence and build cases.

A wave of suits reached the federal court in Mobile in 2018 and 2019 after a judge ruled that thousands of people were not covered by a medical settlement negotiated after the oil spill. Under the ruling, people must file individual lawsuits. And they have continued to trickle in, including eight in Mobile just since the beginning of the year.

Foley resident Richard Becht worked for months as part of the “Vessels of Opportunity” program, which paid people to use their own boats to help clean up the Deepwater Horizon spill that flooded waterways along the Gulf Coast with oil. He said he was working as a subtractor on a dolphin cruise boat.

“I worked from the time it started ‘til the time it ended,” he told FOX10 News.

Becht, who owns a marine electronics business in Gulf Shores, said he later was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

“I didn’t think a lot about it,” he said. “At my age, that was sort of normal. And I was able to get that taken care of through surgery.”

About three years ago, though, Becht said he developed another, more virulent form of cancer – acute myeloid leukemia. He said his doctor told him it was not connected to the prostate cancer. With no cancer history on either side of his family, he said he was puzzled.

Then Becht saw a lawyer ad on TV that got him to think about his cleanup work. He said he now believes his cancer is connected to the chemicals used to break up the oil in the water.

“That’s the only answer I can find, is that I had to be impacted by the benzene in the dispersant,” he said.

Becht contacted the Downs Law Group in Miami, which represents about 200 plaintiffs with pending cases against BP. The firm is evaluating Becht’s case.

De Lima will be on hand at the Holiday Inn Express on Springdale Boulevard on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. to answer questions.

People who worked on oil spill cleanup or lived in close proximity to the spill, have four years from the time they are diagnosed with a long-term illness to file suit. Others have three years from the date they knew or should have know that their illnesses resulted from exposure to the spill.

De Lima said her firm also has talked to parents of children who have rare forms of cancer.

“You know, kids do not get exposed in occupational settings because they don’t work,” she said. “So the studies, the epidemiological studies for children exposures, that science isn’t as robust as it is for adults. But we’re trying to do what we can to find justice in that area.

Some children may have been exposed to carcinogens second hand from their parents, De Lima said.

“They’re not genetic,” she said. “And their cancers that are so rare that you can only, you know, stop and wonder how can this not be as a result of exposure? All these kids were on the beach. BP was telling people that the water was safe, when in fact, that was not the case.”

Attorneys must prove not only that the plaintiffs got sick but that the oil spill caused the illnesses. That often can be difficult when people have exposure to other cancer-causing agents.

BP has a standing policy of not commenting on litigation, but in responses to the lawsuits, the company has denied responsibility.

Becht said he is not sure what a fair outcome would be for him. He said he has been fortunate that insurance has paid most of his medical bills. But he added that he has a form of cancer that is not curable.

“And I take a pill every day that keeps me alive, and that pill’s very expensive,” he said. “And then I get chemo every 35 days. So you add all those up – I will just tell you that my treatment up to now is well over seven figures.”

For BP, the price tag from the oil spill continues to climb. Including money spent on cleanup efforts, to compensate victims, civil and criminal penalties, payments to state and local governments – and other expenses – the company and its parties have shelled out more than $70 billion since 2010.


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