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Tarpon Springs, FL: A Bastion of Integrity

An article entitled “Spillapalooza:  How BP Got Screwed in the Gulf” by Paul Barrett provides some astounding statistics on the volume of litigation that continues to occur, and the widespread abuse of this event by the legal community to pull money out of “big bad oil companies”.  Barrett points out that following the litigious feeding frenzy that occurred immediately after the BP event, multiple entities who were not even remotely impacted by the spill are continuing to have claims paid.  As of June 1, 2013, about $25B has been paid out by BP to cover cleanup and damage claims.  The company has set aside more than $40B for spill liability, and the Justice Department is still seeking up to $17.5B.

If the legal claims were indeed for legitimate cleanup efforts, than this would be OK.  In that case, BP is paying for legitimate damages related to cleanup of an event that never should have happened, and the damages would have had their intended effect:  to remedy a situation, drive improved safety measures for the industry as a whole, and make the people whose lives were impacted by the event whole.  However, how do you justify people in places like Louisiana, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas all scrambling to get a piece of the BP pie?  A large law firm in Tampa has sent out solicitation letters to the community, writing that “The craziest thing about the settlement is that you can be compensated for losses that are UNRELATED to the spill.”

Our legal community at work.  In the long run, this type of activity will not only raise the cost of production for everyone, but will also drive away foreign investment and on-shoring of jobs.  Who wants to operate in an environment of unfettered legal claims?  And whatever happened to ethics?

Not every claimant is extending an open hand to BP however.  Although cities all along the west coast of Florida have filed claims, Tarpon Springs, FL (population 23,000) has declined.  The community is a fishing and tourist location, and City Manager Mark LeCouris noted that the oil did not reach its coastline.  “I’d love to have an extra $1 or $2 or $3 million for the budget, but we just couldn’t document any losses related to BP, as opposed to the difficult times generally from the economy.”  LeCouris emphasized that “The money should go to shrimpers or fishermen or restaurant owners who can really show they were shut down and need the help.  We didn’t want to take anything away from people who were really hurting as a result of the spill.”  This isn’t a sentiment expressed by the city office, but everyone in the local community has congratulated him for doing the right thing.  The main protest came from a dozen or so law firms seeking to take the city’s case in exchange for a fat contingency fee.  “They just kept calling and calling, telling us to do something,” LeCouris says, “We said we didn’t think we had a case, so no thanks.”

Kudos to you, Tarpon Springs.  You are setting the standard for responsible leadership.