Monday, March 10, 2014

Florida finally joins federal litigation against BP

On March 5, 2014, Florida's governor finally took steps to join the federal litigation against BP for environmental damages -- something he chose not to do in 2011. The official announcement is on the Florida Department of Environmental Protection website.

The Florida DEP filed its own complaint against BP and other oil spill defendants on March 5 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, Pensacola Division.

Dave Dunwoody, News Director at WUWF, explains the situation well:

Florida expects to be added to a multi-state federal lawsuit against BP over damages from the Deepwater Horizon disaster, after spending nearly three years unsuccessfully trying to resolve the matter on its own.

The litigation was filed Wednesday in Panama City, by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The idea is to join the existing federal lawsuit now on trial in New Orleans.

After Thursday’s Cabinet meeting, Governor Rick Scott was asked about the timing of entering the case.

"It's the right time to hold BP accountable for environmental harm to our state," said Scott. "So that's why we joined in the lawsuit."

Florida's lawsuit names the firms Anadarko, Transocean and Triton Asset Leasing as defendants. It’s separate from one filed by the state last April against BP and contractor Halliburton. That action seeks about $5.5 billion in lost revenues related to the oil spill.

In April 2011, the state rejected a chance to join the original federal lawsuit. At the time, Scott said he wanted to make sure Florida was "treated fairly" in reimbursement from BP.

Officials with the Attorney General's Office also said at that time a settlement could be reached without litigation, as early as the summer of 2011, unless the oil company refused to cooperate. Scott said if no agreement were reached, a claim would be filed through the Oil Pollution Act rather than joining the case.

Source: (includes audio version)

Zack McDonald at The News Herald explains the nature of the federal litigation further:

The lawsuit seeks a declaration that BP and the other defendants are responsible and strictly liable for damages to "Florida's sandy beaches, salt marshes, wetlands, estuaries, submerged aquatic vegetation, deepwater communities and coral reefs as well as injuries to numerous wildlife species and aquatic species including fish, sea turtles, oysters, birds, and manatees."

Florida also is seeking damages to past and/or future removal costs and natural resource damages, including the loss of recreational and other uses of those resources.


The case filed is separate from the suit filed by the Attorney General's office last year. The Attorney General's suit deals with economic losses Florida suffered as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Wednesday’s filing seeks to hold the named defendants accountable for injuries to the environment the state suffered as a result of the oil spill.

However, Attorney General Pam Bondi also is seeking a declaratory judgment establishing the liability of BP and other companies for the natural resource damages sustained as a result of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.


The full complaint filed by the Florida DEP on March 5 is available online in PDF format.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

BP medical claims can proceed

BP medical claims will finally start getting offers and payments, thanks to the dismissal of the final objector case in the litigation of the class action settlement. Terms of the settlement had prevented the court-supervised Claims Center from sending claimants any offers or payments until the objector cases were resolved.

As stated on the court's website: 

On February 11, 2014, the United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, dismissed the remaining appeals to the Medical Benefits Settlement. Consequently, the “Effective Date” of the Medical Benefits Settlement is February 12, 2014. The deadline for submitting a claim to the Medical Benefits Claims Administrator is one year from the "Effective Date."

So, for the next 12 months, claimants can continue to file BP medical claims. And, it appears the Claims Center can now begin sending offers and payments.

The medical settlement is administered separately from the more talked-about economic losses settlement. While claims for economic losses have been receiving offers and payments for more than a year, the medical claims have not, due to the terms requiring resolution of the objector cases.

The medical claims center posted news of the "effective date" determination on the official website.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

School's out for the summer! (N.B. Cook kids on

Summer has begun and the kids are out of school. This'll be the last summer in which Jude and Ruby are the only two kids in the family, so they better make the most of having the spotlight to themselves while it lasts. That new baby is going to get a lot of attention when she arrives this fall.

My daughter is one of the girls in the background of this short video of N.B. Cook Elementary students waiting to leave on the last day of school.

Ruby's three seconds of fame in a current news video.
Jude was waiting in the car pick-up line also, but I didn't spot him in the video. That's my daughter's kindergarten teacher you see in the first couple seconds of the video.

Ruby and Jude are understandably excited about the beginning of summer vacation. Among our first-summer-weekend celebrations, I let them watch more than the usual share of Netflix videos (mostly "Batman: The Brave and the Bold"), plus I took them to Baskin-Robbins for ice cream and CiCi's Pizza for the pizza buffet and video games and that toy-grabbing claw thing (which actually does let you win a prize fairly often).

Just before summer vacation, the kids and I found some bubble soap while I was cleaning out the garage, and I snapped some photos of them chasing bubbles in the front yard. I discovered it's not easy to take photos and blow bubbles at the same time.

Jude guiding bubbles with a wave of his hand in our front yard in early summer, 2013.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Court orders GCCF to withhold 6% of some payments

Any oil spill claimant who joined the legal action against Transocean -- pending in a New Orleans federal court -- will have six percent of his payment withheld by the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF).

The current rule, ordered January 18, which does not subject a claimant to the holdback if she never filed suit or joined the MDL litigation, comes after the court reversed its own earlier ruling, issued January 4. The earlier ruling, on January 4, had subjected all GCCF claimants to the 6% holdback, even if they never hired a lawyer and never filed suit or joined the MDL. The January 4 order amended and clarified a December 28, 2011, order, which originally established the MDL escrow account and reserve.

Judge Barbier ordered the 6% "holdback" on to cover whatever fees the court might later authorize to pay lawyers representing plaintiffs in the multi-district litigation (MDL) that encompasses the numerous civil cases arising from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The lawyers working for plaintiffs in an MDL typically produce results that benefit all plaintiffs, even those who do not have a lawyer and those whose lawyers are not actively assisting the MDL Plaintiffs' Steering Committee (PSC). For this reason, courts generally award some funds to the MDL PSC, out of jury awards and settlement amounts, to pay litigation fees and expenses.

In the Deepwater Horizon MDL, the court initially ordered holdback of such funds from all GCCF claimants, in the Dec. 28, 2011, order (clarified and amended in the Jan. 4 order). This was unlike the typical MDL situation, in which such an order would only affect parties who had filed lawsuits. In the BP oil spill scenario, GCCF claimants were affected, and many of those individuals and businesses have not filed a lawsuit. Several parties criticized and questioned the court's order to withhold funds from non-litigating parties, appealing to Judge Barbier to alter the ruling, which he did, in the January 18 order.

"The Court has received and considered responses from a number of parties," Judge Barbier explained in his January 18 order, "including the PSC, the United States, the Attorney General for the State of Alabama, and also from a number of interested non-parties, including the Attorneys General for the States of Mississippi and Florida, as well as several non-PSC attorneys."

Some of those responses addressed other issues, beyond the holdback fee. Judge Barbier addressed one of those issues in a separate January 18 order, appointing Louisiana Attorney General James D. “Buddy” Caldwell as Co-Coordinating Counsel for the State Interests. Caldwell had previously been excluded from a role in the MDL, but will now be working alongside Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange.

Because the court has not yet made any rulings on exactly how much the fees will be, it is possible that some of that money might someday be paid back to the GCCF claimants.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

April 20 deadline approaching in Transocean litigation over BP oil spill in Gulf of Mexico

If you have been somehow harmed by the BP oil spill, you should pay close attention to the upcoming April 20 deadline for joining the federal litigation over the liability of Transocean -- the company that owned and operated the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.

Anyone who suffered injury or financial loss from the BP oil spill must file a short form with the federal court in New Orleans, if they want to preserve the right to sue one of the major defendants in the case, Transocean, the company that owned the Deepwater Horizon rig at the heart of the oil spill.

You might recall the news on May 13, 2010, as the oil was still billowing into the Gulf, that Transocean asked federal judge Judge Keith P. Ellison to cap its financial liability at $26.7 million under an ancient maritime statute that limits a vessel-owner's liability to an amount equal to the value of its ship and cargo -- no matter how much damage that vessel has done. Under the Limitation of Liability Act of 1851, a vessel owner is only liable for the post-accident value of the vessel and cargo, if the owner can show he or she had no knowledge of negligence in the accident. Of course, the Deepwater Horizon was worth quite a bit more before it sank to the bottom of the Gulf. But, the Act clearly sets the limit based on the value of the vessel (the oil rig counts as a "vessel" here) after the accident.

The court handling the decision on applying the Limitation of Liability Act authorized a website to inform the public about the filing process for joining the litigation and preserving rights now:

The form is also available on the official court website:

Claimants who want to preserve their right to sue Transocean by joining the lawsuit, should select the appropriate form (see instructions on the websites above), fill it out, and mail it to:

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana
500 Poydras Street
New Orleans, Louisiana 70130
If you are represented by a lawyer, talk to your attorney before filing.

At my law firm, Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis & Overholtz, we are advising clients on how to proceed, in order to ensure that all necessary rights are maintained and recovery is maximized.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Oil rig disaster lawsuit websites already online

Some of the first websites devoted to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill are already online. Here's one of the first, with twitter feed and blog entries: AWKO Law BP Oil Spill Lawsuits (Pensacola, Florida)

Much of oil spill is below the surface

CNN discussion with oil spill expert about extent of oil spill damage below the surface and techniques for attacking it:

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Pensacola lawyers among first to file class action lawsuits against BP, Transocean, Halliburton

Lawyers at Pensacola-based law firm Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis & Overholtz are among the first to file a class action lawsuit against BP Oil, Transocean, Halliburton, and Cameron for the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that has followed the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil platform.

class action lawsuit info

Friday, April 30, 2010

Oil on Pensacola area beaches could hurt statewide tourism in Florida

St. Petersburg Times has excellent coverage of the oil spill disaster.
A slick on Pensacola's beaches could curtail tourism as far away as Miami, since many overseas visitors will hear "Florida beaches hit with oil" and not make the distinction between particular locations.

"If (the spill) hits a Florida beach anywhere, it's like when we have a hurricane or wild fire,'' said Minich. "A lot of people don't understand how big Florida is.''

St. Petersburg Times, By Steve Huettel and Mark Albright, April 30, 2010

Pensacola law firms are already gearing up for individual lawsuits and class actions against BP Oil (operator of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig) and Transocean Ltd. (owner of the oil rig).

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Gulf Breeze Zoo is OPEN!

The Gulf Breeze Zoo re-opened, under all new ownership and manaagment, on February 18, 2010. Let's get out there and visit often!

Actually, I can't visit yet, since I'm still in Philadelphia. But, as soon as my family and I get back to the area, we're headed to the zoo.

There are apparently many improvements, including a new gift shop, picnic pavilion and spruced-up grounds. And, there are about 600 to 700 animals.

Read about the re-opening and view a video:

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Zoo returns to Gulf Breeze (near Pensacola)

The old "Zoo Northwest Florida" that served the Pensacola area for many years closed in 2009, but is scheduled to re-open in February 2010, as the "Gulf Breeze Zoo."

My children will be glad to know this. The zoo is smaller than the ones we've visited in Jacksonville and in Philadelphia. But, the kids won't care. I'm sure they'll love it.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The beach

I suppose the first thing that comes to most people's minds when they think of Pensacola is the beach -- and that is a wonderful reason to live in the area. (Technical Note: Those who live in the area know that Pensacola Beach is actually a separate town from the City of Pensacola.)

The local beaches are covered in immaculate white sand. The waves roll in gently. And, the southward-facing orientation of the coastline is great for providing maximum sunlight all day long.

Interesting trivia about Pensacola Beach: "property owners" there are actually long-term leaseholders and not truly property owners, due to the 1947 deed requiring the county to administer but never dispose of the property. I believe the legal status of the owners is being litigated, but I haven't researched it.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Pensacola golfing

I am determined to finally learn how to hit a golf ball when I move to Pensacola. It looks like the Osceola Municipal Golf Course is a very economical municipal course. It was opened in 1926 and designed by famed Texas golfer William "Wild Bill" Mehlhorn (December 2, 1898 – April 5, 1989). I need a nickname like that. Look for me on the greens.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Pensacola lighthouse

Did you know there's a working lighthouse in Pensacola? Yeah, you probably did. But, it was a pleasant surprise to me.

I still haven't visited it. But, it's one of the first places I'm going when I move to Pensacola this coming summer.

The lighthouse was built in 1824. Here's some information from the lighthouse website:

The Pensacola lighthouse is still an active aid to navigation. Its flashing white beacon faithfully shines at 20-second intervals and is visible 27 miles out to sea.
Pensacola is the oldest lighthouse site on the Gulf Coast. It is also the tallest on the Gulf Coast – standing a proud 171 feet tall on a high bluff on the north side of Pensacola Pass. The lighthouse is built of brick and rests on a 40-foot deep granite foundation. The walls are 10-feet thick at the base and 3-feet thick at the top. There are 177 winding wrought-iron steps which wrap around a center pole leading to the top of the tower. . . .

In 1965, the Lighthouse was automated, thus no longer requiring Keepers to live at the site. Today the lighthouse is tended by the Coast Guard Aids to Navigation Team. The former Keepers’ Quarters contains the Navy Command Display Center with exhibits pertaining to the history of the lighthouse. In 1974, the Pensacola Lighthouse and Keepers’ Quarters were listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Pensapedia: the Pensacola encyclopedia -- a wiki for the region

I was really impressed with the depth and breadth of content on Pensapedia, which I just stumbled upon recently.

This wonderful wiki seems to be updated frequently, with plenty of fresh, new content about Pensacola, including history, locations, events, folklore, people, and more.

Everyone in the area should bookmark this valuable online resource.

National Naval Aviation Museum

The National Naval Aviation Museum is an incredible resource. How many cities have such an amazing museum, with interesting exhibits for children and adults -- totally free of charge?

When we lived in Pensacola last summer, my wife took the kids there and reported that they loved it. I'm eager to get over there myself to see what's on display.

Blue Angels air show

This past summer, my wife and kids and I watched the local Blue Angels air show, at Pensacola Beach, along with about a million other people. It was amazing. This is something our kids are really going to enjoy about being in the Pensacola Bay area.

We stayed at an apartment that was close to the Naval Air Station the Blue Angels call home, so we got to see them preparing for the show several times in the days leading up to the show. I think we saw them up in the air doing stunts a couple times after the show too.

Pensacola racing

The local racing scene is one of the main things I'm looking forward to as we move to Pensacola.

When I was very young, my parents and I lived in Ft. Walton Beach, and my father used to take me to races at Five Flags Speedway. Now, I'll be able to take my kids there to see great stock car racing.

During my stay in Pensacola this past summer, I noticed that Five Flags Speedway has a weekly show on a local cable channel. You can bet I'll be tuning in every week.

Look for me at the track, especially at next year's Snowball Derby. I see Kyle Busch won it this year.

We're also going to catch some drag racing over at the Emerald Coast's Supercooler Dragway in Holt, Florida.

When the kids get a little older, maybe they can take up kart racing, over at the Pensacola Raceway (just don't tell my wife).

Moving back to Florida

After three years away from Florida, so I could attend law school in Philadelphia, my wife and kids and the dog and I are headed back to the Sunshine State -- to the Pensacola Bay area to be exact. This blog will be a place for me to log our experience in looking for our new home, moving, settling in, and getting acquainted with all there is to love about the Pensacola Bay area.

If you have any suggestions for great neighborhoods, good elementary schools, or great things to do in the area, please feel free to contact me.