NEW ORLEANS – A larger collection of owners and lease holders of an oyster bed are seeking damages after an oil spill allegedly contaminated their property.
Mathew J. Lepetich, M.J. Lepetich Oysters LLC, M.J. Lepetich Marine LLC, et al. filed a lawsuit Feb. 19 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana against Burnett & Co. Inc., certain underwriters at Lloyd’s of London, Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., Water Quality Insurance Syndicate and Gemini Insurance Co., citing the Oil Pollution Act.
The plaintiffs allegedly have a proprietary interest and were lease holders of a patch of property used for oyster breeding located in Harvest Area 11 in the Parish of Plaquemines. Several of the plaintiffs own vessels to harvest oysters and earn a living through as harvesters and fishermen.
Defendants are insurers, some of which insured Swift Energy Co. and Swift Energy Operating LLC, who contracted the vessel Sea Raider and owns Lake Washington Field Cockrell Moran 183 Well (CM 183). On Feb. 26, 2013, the vessel Sea Raider allegedly struck the CM 183, causing raw crude oil and other contaminants to be released into the waters in immediate vicinity, including the area related to the plaintiffs' beds. Plaintiffs argue that the incident was caused by the negligent maintenance and operation of the Sea Raider and the negligent maintenance of the CM 183.
As a result of the oil spill, the plaintiffs’ oyster property was damaged, making it unsuitable to breed oysters, and the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Commission closed Harvest Area 11 to oyster harvesters from Feb. 27, 2013, to March 16, 2013. This prevented plaintiffs from cultivating and harvesting oysters in that area, resulting in loss of income, financial damages and expenses for restoring the area.
They are now suing for all reasonable, general, special and punitive damages, the cost of the suit, attorney fees and any and all equitable and general relief. They are represented by George Pivach II and Corey E. Dunbar from Pivach, Pivach, Hufft, Thriffiley & Dunbar LLC in Belle Chasse; Lawrence Blake Jones, Joshua L Rubenstein, and David C. Whitmore from Scheuermann & Jones, LLC in New Orleans; and representatives from the Garbin Law Firm LLC in Gretna; Becnel Law Firm LLC in Reserve; Whaley Law Firm in Baton Rouge; Cossich, Sumich, Parsiola, & Taylor LLC in Belle Chasse; Scandurro & Layrisson LLC in New Orleans; Law Office of James F. Gasquet III LLC in Belle Chasse; Touzet Law Firm in New Orleans; and Ballay, Braud, & Colon PLC in Belle Chasse.
U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana Case number 2:16-cv-01431