'Legacy sites' resulting in million-dollar litigation in Louisiana

By Alejandro de los Rios | May 18, 2011


A 2006 Louisiana state law has resulted in oil companies paying millions of dollars in litigation for damages done to properties worth half that much have created "a tremendous burden" on the industry, oil executives claim.

Speaking at a press conference in Baton Rouge on May 11, Louisiana Oil and Gas Association President Don Briggs said he supports new legislation that will give state and local officials over oil spill cleanups.

Briggs pointed to a 2003 lawsuit where the plaintiff was awarded $54 million for oil contamination to land worth just over $100,000. The plaintiff had leased the land to oil companies to aid in offshore drilling.

State Rep. Page Cortez (R-Lafayette) has introduced legislation that will amend Act 312, which allowed local courts to place fault when it came to oil contamination before a cleanup plan was put in place.

The new legislation would make it so state officials would have authority over cleanup and would determine a cost before a ruling is determined in litigation.

Briggs said lawsuits stemming from "legacy sites" – where landowners lease land to oil companies for drilling – can last for several years and hinder growth in the industry.

In an editorial written for the Record and which also appeared in the Lafourche Parish Daily Comet, Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch (LLAW) Director Melissa Landry was critical of "legacy" lawsuits.

The lawsuits, Landry wrote, "are supposed to help clean up the environment from damage that may have occurred years or decades ago."

"But the only real impact they're having is slowing down oil production at a time when we need it most," she wrote. "According to the state's independent oil producers association, this is largely due to the fact that our existing laws make Louisiana very attractive to some personal injury lawyers and a great place to play the legacy lawsuit "lottery.""

U.S. Senator David Vitter (R-La.) has backed the new state legislation seeking to curb "legacy" suits. In a statement, he said he's "very concerned" with how the lawsuits cound hinder the energy industry in Louisiana.

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