Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Plaintiff's lawyers set oil spill seminar

A Tuesday seminar of lawyers, other experts will tell South Floridians how to prepare for potential spill losses.

Oil from BP's monumental spill in the Gulf of Mexico has yet to touch Florida shores, but a gaggle of plaintiffs' lawyers are already coming to Miami Beach to brief property owners and businesses on how to prepare for potential losses from the Deepwater Horizon rig disaster.

A joint venture of 10 law firms -- dubbed Gulf Oil Disaster Recovery Group -- is hosting a seminar at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Ritz-Carlton South Beach.

The seminar ``is informational, and of course, if people want to consult with us afterward, we'll be available,'' said Stuart H. Smith, an attorney with the New Orleans law firm of Smith Stag, who has handled major environmental cases against oil companies.

Smith, who lives in Miami Beach and New Orleans, helped organize the cooperating law firms, which includes Krupnick Campbell Malone in Fort Lauderdale and firms from various states, including Texas, Pennsylvania, Mississippi and Alabama. Kent Harrison Robbins in Miami Beach also is associated with the effort.

The alliance of lawyers has held similar seminars in Destin and Panama City, and plans one this week in New Orleans.

The outreach to potential victims comes as plaintiffs' lawyers around the country are pressing hard to grab a piece of the litigation action against BP, which runs the leaking well.

``Every law firm in the country is buying up'' websites related to oil spill litigation, said Smith, whose website is www.gulfoildisasterrecovery.com/

Under Florida Bar rules, attorneys can hold seminars, but they cannot directly solicit clients to sign up for cases, said Joy Bruner, an ethics attorney with the Florida Bar.

``Our goal is for people to get competent information that can protect their interests, especially with a megacorporation that has the best representation in the world to defend it,'' said Fort Lauderdale attorney Robert J. McKee, of Krupnick Campbell Malone. ``This is information about the necessity to prepare yourself -- whether you're a fisherman, a business or a hotelier -- for if and when the oil washes up onto the beaches.''

McKee said business and property owners should act now to document what their properties look like, so they can demonstrate any damage from the spill later on. People should keep records of any economic impact, such as lost business or reduced reservations, said Smith.

``If someone calls and cancels a reservation, fax them a letter saying, `We're very sorry you're not coming,' and put a copy in your file,'' Smith said. ``That way, when you sit down at the table with Mr. BP, we have the evidence. In these cases, the plaintiff always has the burden of proof.''

The session at the Ritz-Carlton, at One Lincoln Road, will include presentations by a toxicologist, an oceanographer and a sociologist. The sociologist, who studied the Exxon Valdez disaster, will describe how a community deals with the effects of a major environmental disaster. A certified public accountant will give tips on how to document the spill's impact on businesses.

``A lot of sports fishermen may not realize that a lot of sports species spawn in the Louisiana area that's affected,'' Smith said. ``We expect fisheries from the Gulf all the way to Iceland to be affected.''

McKee said the attorney consortium has extensive skills in environmental tort law and already represents the United Commercial Fishermen's Association in Louisiana, hotel owners in Destin, and the local government of Gulf County in the Panhandle.

By Martha Brannigan

Source: The Miami Herald

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