Louisiana fishermen who volunteered to help clean up the oil spill have joined the class action fray against BP, claiming an indemnification agreement they would be required to sign severely hampers their freedom of speech and their right to sue over lost income.

According to a complaint filed May 2 in federal court in New Orleans, the fishermen would be required to sign a "Master Vessel Charter Agreement" which they say contains provisions that reduce their rights as volunteers.

George Barisich, individually and on behalf of The United Commercial Fisherman's Association, filed the suit against BP, BP Exploration & Production, and PB America Production Co.

Barisch alleges that one provision requires vessel owners to provide BP a full written notice within 30 days if the vessel owner has a claim against BP. He argues that this effectively limits his rights to a 30 day period for any applicable number or type of claim or future claims that will continue to grow out of the oil spill.

The agreement also contains a confidentiality clause that Barisich argues limits his free speech rights. The agreement would require vessel owners to maintain insurance policies and name BP as an additional insured and it would insulate BP from additional losses and injuries arising out of the clean-up efforts, which BP is obligated, the complaint states.

On behalf of the volunteers, Barisich is asking the court to prevent BP from requiring the volunteers to sign the agreement and declare the agreement is unconscionable and any executed agreements are null and void.

New Orleans attorneys James Garner, Peter Hilbert, Jr., Timothy Force, Sharonda Williams and Emma Elizabeth Antin Daschback of Sher, Garner, Cahill, Richter, Klein & Hilbert are representing the plaintiffs. Additional counsel includes New Orleans attorneys Gladstone Jones, III, Eberhard Garrison, Kevin Huddell, H.S. Bartlett III, and Jacqueline Stump of Jones, Swanson, Huddell & Garrison, Stuart Smith and Michael Stag of Smith Stagg and Val Patrick Exnicious of Liska, Exnicious & Nungesser.

U.S. District Judge Helen G. Berrigan is assigned to the litigation.

Case No 2:10cv01316

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