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BP Accused of Dawdling During Disaster

NEW ORLEANS (CN) - BP delayed sealing the broken wellhead in the Deepwater Horizon disaster to make sure it could "salvage the well for future use," according to a dozen new plaintiffs who say they have nerve diseases from the spill, and will not join the class action settlement.

The new plaintiffs' attorney told Courthouse News his clients joined the consolidated litigation with 120,000 other plaintiffs, but will not join a class-action settlement because the $60,000 cap for individuals would not fairly compensate them for their neurotoxic illnesses.

The new dozen plaintiffs say swimming in the Gulf of Mexico and breathing toxic air after the giant oil spill made them sick.

In addition to ruining their property and making them sick, the plaintiffs say, BP delayed sealing the well because it wanted to make sure it could use it again in the future.

"After the blowout and before the well was finally sealed, BP was aware of procedures that would immediately block the flow of oil into the Gulf, yet it delayed the implementation of any such procedures, and limited its efforts to plug the well to options that would salvage the well for future use, instead of selecting procedures that would stop the flow of oil as soon as possible regardless of the well's continued functionality," according to the federal complaint. "As such, BP increased the magnitude of, and damage caused by, the spill by willfully and/or wantonly and recklessly choosing its profits over the lives of the workers on the vessel, the safety of the environment, and the health, welfare, and value of the people, businesses, and property of the Gulf states."

The 12 new plaintiffs say they are sick because of exposure to oil and the dispersant Corexit, after the April 20, 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion that killed 11 and unleashed the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

They sued BP for the Deepwater Horizon disaster; Nalco, the manufacturer of Corexit; and two companies that sprayed the dispersant, Airborne Support International and Moran Environmental Recovery.

Nearly 2 million gallons of Corexit were sprayed and injected into the oil during the 87 days before the wellhead was capped.

Lead plaintiff Paul Doom claims says BP "injected at least 770,000 gallons of chemical dispersants directly into the damaged wellhead and otherwise directed its contractors, including Airborne Support (ASI) to apply considerable amounts of chemical dispersants directly onto the territorial waters of Florida."

In doing so, Doom says, "BP recklessly, willfully and/or wantonly failed to use ordinary care by electing to use chemical dispersants that are more toxic than others in the response efforts and thereby amplified the toxic effects on the marine environment and the damages to plaintiffs. ...

"The untested manner and unprecedented scale in which defendants used dispersants on such a sheer volume of oil likely caused foreseeable negative consequences. BP used the dispersants in a manner and quantity for which they were not designed, labeled or tested by injecting chemical dispersants directly at the wellhead approximately 5,000 feet below the surface."

The plaintiffs say Airborne Support (ASI), as a contractor for BP, should have realized the toxicity of the dispersant Corexit, especially in the volume it was being sprayed, and refused to apply it.

"ASI owed a duty to reject spraying huge quantities of dispersants onto the Gulf and Florida territorial waters in order to protect the Gulf ecosystem on which plaintiffs rely for their economic benefit. ASI knew or should have known that they would be spraying quantities of chemicals over volumes of water in ways which had never been tested for affect. ASI breached that duty of reasonable care," the complaint states.

Plaintiffs' attorney Michael Stag, with Smith Stag in New Orleans, told Courthouse News that many of the dozen new plaintiffs suffered neurotoxic injuries from exposure to oil and Corexit.

Symptoms of neurotoxicity can include loss of memory or vision, obsessive compulsive disorders, delusions and cognitive problems, and can be permanent.

The combination of the dispersant Corexit and oil is more toxic to humans and wildlife than oil by itself.

"They're going to need long-term medical treatment and will be affected probably for the rest of their lives," Stag said in an interview.

Because of the severity of his clients' illnesses, Stag said, he will opt out of the class action settlement between BP and plaintiff attorneys, and try the case separately after the class action is settled.

The oil spill litigation is divided between claimants like the plaintiffs, who suffer medical damages and property loss, and claimants who say their businesses were affected or are still owed money from BP, either for goods and services or for work they did for the oil giant after the spill rendered them unemployed.

A class action settlement between BP and plaintiff attorneys was announced last March. BP intends to spend about $7.8 billion settling many of the hundreds of thousands of damage claims it faces.

Under the proposed settlement agreement, plaintiffs seeking medical damages will be eligible to receive up to $60,000 apiece.

Stag said that figure would not begin to cover the medical expenses of plaintiffs who suffer from neurotoxicity.

BP and Nalco have asked U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, who is overseeing the consolidated oil spill litigation, to dismiss them as defendants from this litigation.

Barbier heard oral arguments on this in July.

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