CHARLESTON, S.C. (CN) – Businesses and homeowners in six coastal counties in South Carolina have filed class actions against BP, Halliburton and Transocean, claiming the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is already hurting tourism and housing values in the Palmetto state.
Plaintiffs in the three federal class actions concede that not a drop of oil spilled in the Gulf may yet have reached South Carolina, but they say that the stigma created by “ominous and scary reports” that the spill is in the Gulf Stream and could reach the state’s beaches has set the stage for an economic disaster.
The classes claim the defendants’ combined negligence caused the April 20 explosion on the oil rig, its subsequent sinking and the catastrophic oil spill.
Officials estimate that more than 40 million gallons of oil have leaked from the well. The leak was partially capped this week, but that hasn’t stopped an additional 330,000 gallons of oil from pouring into the gulf on a daily basis, according to published reports.
Each of the class actions contends that the large spill – now estimated to be roughly the size of South Carolina – has reached the Gulf of Mexico’s “loop current.” They say it “will cause detrimental effects and damages upon the entire South Carolina marine environment,” and harm a host of economic interests, including attractions, hotels, restaurants, coastal retail establishments and the owners of vacation rental properties.
The complaints were filed on behalf of property owners in waterfront communities, several tourism business and the Litchfield real estate company’s offices in Charleston, Horry, Georgetown, Colleton, Jasper and Beaufort Counties.
“Once it became clear that early oil spill containment efforts had failed, the tourism and housing industry in coastal counties in South Carolina was immediately affected,” one complaint states. “Vacationers [have] simply been unwilling to take any chances that their vacations might be adversely affected by the oil spill.
As a result, another complaint states, the “plaintiffs have experienced a significant dip in customer attendance that appears to be getting worse by the day.”
Among those affected, or about to be affected, is the Litchfield Company, which “specializes in the listing and sale of properties located on or near the coast of South Carolina,” according to the third complaint.
Litchfield claims that housing prices in coastal communities, which only recently started to rebound after the recession, are again on the decline.
Each of the plaintiff classes seeks damages of no less than $5 million on claims of negligence, strict liability for abnormally dangerous activity, strict products liability for manufacturing defect, and violations of the oil pollution act.
The plaintiffs are represented by Ed Bell, of the Bell Legal Group in Georgetown, S.C., and Tommy Brittain, of The Brittain Law Firm in Myrtle Beach.