Trial lawyer Gladstone Jones conveniently omitted a few key facts in his recent letter regarding legacy lawsuits.
First, there is good reason for businesses, lawmakers, judges and jurors to question the validity of the vast majority of legacy claims.
While there are certainly some instances of legitimate environmental conditions that need to be addressed, there is data showing many of these lawsuits fail to present any actual proof of wrongdoing or significant damage.
For example, a 2012 report by the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources found 78 percent of all the legacy cases on file with the state at the time failed to present any evidence of environmental contamination according to state standards. The DNR report is available for the public to view online at tinyurl.com/qdnp7et.
Second, since 2003, oil and gas producers in Louisiana have paid hundreds of millions of dollars to trial lawyers and the plaintiffs they represent in an effort to resolve a large number of legacy lawsuits. Most settlements are kept secret, but some experts estimate these cases settle for an average of about $20 million apiece, with trial lawyers raking in legal fees between 30 to 40 percent of those awards. And yet, these huge settlements have resulted in very few cleanups.
WWL-TV news reported last year that, according to a database kept by the Office of Conservation, a department within DNR, only 12 properties with state-verified contamination had been cleaned up by July 2014. This data is publicly available online at tinyurl.com/oljh5ul.
In spite of hundreds of lawsuits and the many millions of dollars that have been paid to clean up alleged contamination, the vast majority of legacy sites at the center of litigation remain untouched — including the property in the landmark case that started it all.
In 2003, the Louisiana Supreme Court upheld a decision awarding a $73 million judgment for landowners on a small piece of property valued at just $110,000. Thirty-three million of that award was supposed to be used for a remediation plan, but more than a decade later, the land still hasn’t been cleaned up.
These facts, which are all verifiable online, illustrate the current system for handling legacy lawsuit claims is not working. Louisiana lawmakers should act to strengthen and streamline the regulatory process for addressing these environmental lawsuits and discourage the filing of frivolous claims, which seek to undermine the true intent of the law.
Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch