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BP Transocean oil spill

Nick Gillespie reviews the new book by the author of The Death of Common Sense:

The Rule of Nobody updates and expands Howard’s original brief, and it helps to explain why government at all levels not only is on autopilot but on a flight path that can only end in disaster.

Every Philip Howard book is notable for its horror stories of regulation and systemic dysfunction, and reviewer Kyle Smith in the New York Post relates one I hadn’t heard, about the mammoth Deepwater Horizon spill:

When the oil rig started leaking mud and gas, the crew should have simply directed the flow over the side. Dumped it in the gulf. That would have been a small oil spill, of course, and no oil spill is a good thing. But in trying to avoid that, the crew caused a gigantic oil spill. Eleven lives were lost.

Safety protocol called for the men to aim the flow into a safety gizmo called an oil and gas separator, but that became backed up and made matters worse. Explosive gas filled the air around the rig, which finally exploded.

Then some workers who escaped in a raft almost died. Why? They were tied to the burning rig, and regulations forbade them to carry knives so they couldn’t cut themselves free.

More on the book here. Another review: Jesse Singal, Boston Globe.

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December 23 roundup

by Walter Olson on December 23, 2013

  • Metro-North train crash spurs calls for mandatory crash-prevention devices. Think twice [Steve Chapman]
  • BP sues attorney Mikal Watts [Insurance Journal] Exaggerated Gulf-spill claims as a business ethics issue [Legal NewsLine]
  • Pot-war fan: “Freedom also means the right not to be subjected to a product I consider immoral” [one of several Baltimore Sun letters to the editor in reaction to my piece on marijuana legalization, and Gregory Kline's response]
  • Aaron Powell, The Humble Case for Liberty [Libertarianism.org]
  • Allegation: lawprof borrowed a lot of his expert witness report from Wikipedia [Above the Law]
  • Frivolous “sovereign citizen” lawsuits on rise in southern Jersey [New Jersey Law Journal, earlier]
  • Star of Hitchcock avian thriller had filed legal malpractice action: “Tippi Hedren wins $1.5 million in bird-related law suit” [Telegraph]

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A big win for the oil company before a Fifth Circuit panel, fighting what it says is systematic large-scale fraud in the Gulf Coast spill economic-damage settlement. [Bloomberg News, earlier here, here, etc.]

Environment roundup

by Walter Olson on August 23, 2013

  • California officials profess surprise: fracking’s been going on for decades in their state [Coyote]
  • Taxpayers fund Long Island Soundkeeper enviro group, affiliated with RFK Jr.’s Waterkeeper network, and a Connecticut state lawmaker does rather nicely out of that [Raising Hale]
  • Backgrounder on Louisiana coastal erosion suit [New Orleans Times-Picayune] “Lawsuit Blaming Oil Companies For Wetland Loss Might As Well Blame The Plaintiffs” [Daniel Fisher, Forbes]
  • US ties for worst of 25 countries when it comes to delay in mining permits [Sharon Koss, NTU] “Number One in DataMining” [@sonodoc99]
  • “BP Is Rapidly Becoming One Giant Law Firm” [Paul Barrett, Bloomberg Business Week]
  • “Mann v. Steyn — Mann wins round one” [Adler]
  • An insider’s view of EPA and how it uses power [Brent Fewell]

The New York Times columnist responds to critics of his coverage (earlier here, here, etc.) of the BP Gulf spill claims bonanza:

Until that story [on the silicone breast implant episode], I’d always taken the liberal view of plaintiffs’ lawyers as avenging angels, righting wrongs and helping wrest compensation for people who had been harmed by greedy corporations. …

[Since then] I’ve seen mass torts where the actual plaintiffs get coupons while the lawyers reap millions. Mass torts where the connection between the product and the harm is illusory. Mass torts built on fraud (silicosis). Complex litigation settled for billions even when the government implies that consumers are responsible (Toyota sudden acceleration). I’ve also seen cases where some victims hit the jackpot with a giant jury verdict and other victims come up empty. Or where a corporation really has done harm but pays off the lawyers instead of the victims. Over the years, I’ve thought: There’s got to be a better way.

Read the whole thing [via Ted at Point of Law]

A hearing in a New Orleans courtroom gives off a tantalizing aroma of Louisiana home cooking. “But what do I know? I’m from New York.” [New York Times, earlier here and here]

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“Then the lawyers pounced.” [Joe Nocera, "Justice, Louisiana Style," New York Times, earlier]

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A “staff attorney at the Deepwater Horizon Court Supervised Settlement Program… was suspended after being accused of accepting fees from law firms while processing their clients’ claims from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.” [Bloomberg] And that’s just the start of what may be much wider problems, according to a cover story by Paul Barrett at Bloomberg Business Week. “The craziest thing about the settlement,” one lawyer wrote in a client-solicitation letter, “is that you can be compensated for losses that are UNRELATED to the spill.” [Bloomberg Business Week] Barrett’s account tells, in his own words, “how the private-claims process following BP’s (BP) 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill devolved into a plaintiffs’-lawyer feeding frenzy.” [BBW]

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Environment roundup

by Walter Olson on April 18, 2013

  • Better hope a Portland municipal arborist never takes an interest in you [Tod Kelly, League of Ordinary Gentlemen]
  • California’s Prop 65 and Gresham’s Law of Warnings (bad warnings drive out good) [David Henderson]
  • Bombshells just keep on coming in the Ecuador Lago Agrio story: “Litigation finance firm in Chevron case says it was duped by Patton Boggs” [Roger Parloff, Fortune; last Saturday's bombshell] Grounds for embarrassment at CBS “60 Minutes” [CJR]
  • Brad Plumer interview with Jonathan Adler, “What conservative environmentalism might look like” [WaPo]
  • “The light-bulb law was a matter of public policy profiteering” [Tim Carney via @amyalkon] To get ahead in D.C., a well-known conservative group adopts some concrete priorities [same]
  • “No one’s tried that. It’s not worth taking the risk.” Social-conservative, environmentalist themes have much in common [A. Barton Hinkle]
  • “BP Loses Bid to Block ‘Fictitious’ Oil Spill Claims” [Amanda Bronstad, NLJ; more]

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The cozy dealings between the state of Mississippi and well-connected private lawyers — especially the way the state comes to hire those lawyers on contingency fee to pursue high-ticket suits against outside defendants — have long furnished grist for this site. Now, opening a new chapter, Mississippi AG Jim Hood has hired former AG Michael Moore, like Hood a longtime Overlawyered favorite, to sue BP over the effects of the Transocean oil spill on the state. [AP, YallPolitics] Per YallPolitics, “Interestingly, there is no specific financial arrangement. Moore and Hood contractually agree to work it out later and have fees paid directly by BP to the as yet to be named legal team led by Moore.” When Moore hired later-disgraced Dickie Scruggs to represent Mississippi what was to develop into the most profitable litigation in history — the multistate tobacco caper — the financial details were likewise shrouded in secrecy, and it was later claimed that there was no written agreement.

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“Oil giant BP’s $20bn (£13bn) fund to compensate those hit by the Gulf of Mexico spill has been frozen, following a court order that all claimants must share the cost of the legal team leading the action over the disaster – whether or not they pursued their claim through the courts.” [Telegraph]

Campbell Robertson and John Schwartz of the New York Times find that many Vietnamese-Americans who are listed as law firm clients in the BP Transocean spill proceedings would rather not be law firm clients. “Like [Tim] Nguyen, some maintain that they never signed up with lawyers, but found that claims had been filed on their behalf (about 50 people have made formal complaints to the claims facility along these lines).” Nguyen found himself a client of lawyer Mikal Watts, “and to his further surprise, as a Louisiana shrimper rather than a Mississippi shipyard worker.” Watts, a big-league Texas tort lawyer, has reported having 43,000 spill clients, many mass-recruited from minority and poorer communities; he says he has a “signed contingency-fee contract with every client,” and that he has released clients who changed their mind about representation. “People familiar with the claims process [of one 26,000-claimant subgroup] said nearly every submission was listed as a deckhand with identical earnings.” Watts says the claims fund, administered by Kenneth Feinberg, has kept changing the documentation it asks for.

Lawyers advertise for recreational, not just commercial, fisherfolk to file claims against the Gulf spill fund. [WSJ Law Blog]

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“The amount of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon rig blowout will be determined by protracted court proceedings rather than purely scientific calculations, the nation’s top environmental enforcement officer said Thursday.” [Houston Chronicle]

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December 31 roundup

by Walter Olson on December 31, 2010

  • “No refusal” DUI checkpoints spread and can result in mandatory blood tests for drivers; MADD cheers infringement of liberty [WTSP]
  • Teleworking regulations: a new way to sue your (federal) boss? [welcome Mickey Kaus/Newsweek readers]
  • “The federal government has been in the business of micro-managing our kids’ lunches for 30 years” [David Gratzer/Examiner] St. Paul, Minn. schools ban sweets, even when brought from home [Star-Tribune] Michelle Obama, Sarah Palin, and the Happy Meal lawsuit [John Steele Gordon, Commentary]
  • Top ten insurance law decisions of 2010 [Randy Maniloff, Insurance Journal; also congrats on his new book (with Jeffrey Stempel)]
  • “Mitch Daniels and Criminal Sentencing Reform in Indiana” [Orin Kerr] Daniels isn’t backing down from call for truce on social issues [GOP12]
  • Happy 100th birthday, Ronald Coase [Gillespie, Reason]
  • Damage to Gulf from spill now looks much less than feared [Robert Nelson, Weekly Standard]
  • Saudi court decides that text message is valid method of divorce [Emirates 24/7]

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Federal judge Martin Feldman was vilified in some quarters for lifting the Obama administration’s Gulf deepwater drilling moratorium, but in retrospect “arbitrary and capricious” seems if anything generous as a description of the Interior Department’s actions. [Politico]

“The other oil cleanup”

by Walter Olson on November 13, 2010

Must reading in last week’s New York Times Magazine: Douglas McCollam explores the scramble over compensation after the BP TransOcean gulf oil spill, profiling Texas trial lawyer Tony Buzbee, who’s among those leading resistance to the Ken Feinberg administered-compensation-fund way of handling claims. It offers a much broader and better-informed perspective on wider litigation trends than is usual in such stories.

November 9 roundup

by Walter Olson on November 9, 2010

  • White House panel’s counsel: no evidence corner-cutting caused Gulf spill [NYT, Reuters] Furor ensues [WaPo]
  • Report: grief counselors assigned to Democratic congressional staffers [Maggie Haberman, Politico]
  • “Lawyer Sues for Humiliation and Lost Business Due to Misspelled Yellowbook Ad” [ABA Journal, South Dakota]
  • Argument today in important Supreme Court case, AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion: will courts respect freedom of contract in consumer arbitration context, or yield Litigation Lobby the monopoly it seeks over dispute resolution? [Ted at PoL]
  • No search warrant needed: armed deputies in Orlando storm unlicensed barbershops, handcuff barbers [Balko, Reason "Hit and Run"]
  • After Colorado hit-run, banker allowed to plead down to misdemeanors lest his job be at risk [Greenfield]
  • FDA to decide whether to ban menthol in cigarettes [CEI]
  • Reshuffling blackjack decks is not “racketeering” [ten years ago on Overlawyered]

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