In search of the billion dollar disaster bonanza

The SE Texas Record Jun. 5, 2010, 11:40am

"I expect this will keep me busy for quite a while," said Charleston, W. Va., plaintiffs attorney Ed Hill last month. Already he has netted a boatload of fishermen and shrimpers to represent as they seek damages for the Gulf Coast oil spill.

Hill is one of hundreds of lawyers rushing to capitalize on the calamity. Will these fee-rich crusades restore alleged losses of their clients, remediate the environmental damage, or prevent future disasters?

Probably not, but the disaster will keep the lawyers busy and make many of them filthy rich from the filthy mess coating portions of the Gulf.

The multimedia trolling for clients has been going on for weeks. Native sons Brent Coon of Beaumont and Tony Buzbee of Houston are in the oily thick of it.

"As a national law firm . . . we led the charge against British Petroleum following the 2005 explosion at the BP Texas City Refinery that killed 15 people," Coon's newly launched, spill-specific website declares. "Now, we're preparing to take on the oil giants once again."

"This is going to be the largest case in the history of the United States, even bigger than the tobacco cases," Buzbee predicted with seeming glee in a recent interview. "There will be thousands and thousands and thousands of cases."

If history repeats itself, those "thousands and thousands and thousands of cases" will likely accomplish the most for the pocketbooks of Coon and Buzbee and their ilk who are competing for a share of the disaster's legal fees payday.

Just as happened with tobacco and asbestos, narrow self-interest could trump the common good, lawyers will make many more millions, clients will reap considerably less for their troubles, legitimate businesses may be bled dry, and thousands of shareholders and employees will lose their investments and their jobs.

The American public will suffer as well, as sensational reporting and opportunistic legal actions stifle offshore drilling, raise our cost of living, and further increase our dangerous dependence on foreign oil

What a bonanza for some plaintiff lawyers-- and what a tragedy for the rest of us.

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