14 seafood businesses sue BP in Jefferson County

Kelly Holleran Jul. 1, 2010, 6:42am

Floyd's Cajun Seafood in Beaumont

A group of seafood restaurant owners claim they face economic difficulties after facing deprived access to their usual supplies of fresh seafood due to the sinking of a BP oil rig.

Fourteen restaurants and their owners in Jefferson, Harris, Brazoria, Hardin and Jasper counties in Texas and Mobile County in Alabama filed their suit June 24 in Jefferson County District Court against BP and its subsidiaries, Anadarko Petroleum, Moex Offshore, Transocean, Halliburton Energy Services and Cameron International Corp.

"As the oil continues to make landfall along the Gulf Coast, it will cause severe damage to the delicate wetlands and intertidal zones that line the coast of, destroying the habitats where fish, shellfish and crustaceans breed, spawn and mature," the suit states.

"The timing of this disaster makes it even more damaging, as May is spawning season for some sea life and migration time for the young of some species of shrimp and various pelagic fish. Such devastation at the literal source of life for so many species will severely damage and perhaps even destroy the livelihoods of the Plaintiffs who rely on this sea life for their livelihoods."

Plaintiffs named in the suit include Floyd, Floyd, Pearce of Beaumont; Floyd, Floyd and Sons, doing business as Floyd's Cajun Seafood House; Floyd's Restaurants of Pearland, doing business as Floyd's Cajun Seafood and Texas Statehouse; Coastline Seafood International; Bret Floyd, owner of Floyd's Cajun Seafood House; Floyd Landry, owner of Floyd's Cajun Seafood House; Catfish Cabin and its owner, Tim James; Big Johnson's Charters and its owners, Nicholas Johnson and Jeremy Johnson; Tim Berryman; Timothy Glen Berryman; and Rebecca A. Berryman.

On May 2, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration restricted fishing for at least 10 days in water between the mouth of the Mississippi River in Louisiana to waters off Florida's Pensacola Bay. NOAA may soon declare a fisheries disaster in the area, thus severely impacting the plaintiffs' businesses, according to the complaint.

The plaintiffs lay the blame on the defendants and accuse them of negligence.

The lawsuit comes after the Deepwater Horizon, a semi-submersible oil rig off the coast of Louisiana, sank following an explosion on April 20. Before the explosion, the Deepwater Horizon had been connected to a well at the bottom of the sea floor by a 5,000-foot pipe, the suit states. As the rig sank, it pulled the pipe with it until the pipe tore away from the rig and began gushing oil, the complaint says.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs argue the catastrophe could have been avoided had the well at the bottom of the ocean been equipped with a working blowout preventer, which is designed to shut the pipe in case of a sudden pressure release.

Defendant Cameron International supplied the blowout preventer that allegedly failed to properly function during the April 20 explosion, according to the complaint.

"A 2004 study by federal regulators showed that BOPs may not function in deep-water drilling environments because of the increased force needed to pinch and cut the stronger pipes used in deep-water drilling," the suit states.

"Only three of 14 rigs studied in 2004 had BOPs able to squeeze off and cut the pipe at the water pressures present at the equipment's maximum depth. Moreover, the study singled out Cameron, the manufacturer of the Deepwater Horizon's BOP, for relying on faulty calculations to determine the needed strength for its BOP equipment to function properly at greater depths."

BP and its co-defendants also could have taken additional preventative measures that may have prevented the oil spill, the complaint says.

For example, the companies could have installed a back-up trigger on the blowout preventer in case the main trigger failed to function or could have installed a second blowout preventer, the plaintiffs claim.

"Defendants' failure to take precautionary backup measures when drilling at depths they knew to be especially risky is made all the worse by the fact that Defendants were drilling so close to an extremely delicate and important natural resource: the Gulf Coast marshes, wetlands, and estuaries that are a wellspring of marine life, and the source of Plaintiffs' livelihood," the suit states.

In their complaint, the plaintiffs seek economic, compensatory and punitive damages, plus pre- and post-judgment interest, attorneys' fees, costs and other relief the court deems just.

Walter Umphrey and Jacqueline Ryall of Provost Umphrey Law Firm in Beaumont will be representing the plaintiffs.

The case has been assigned to Judge Donald Floyd, 172nd District Court.

Jefferson County District Court case number: E187-135.

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