Becnel leads suit against Murphy Oil

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 10, 2005

Oil spillage, destruction in St. Bernard Parish blamed on refinery



RESERVE — Nationally-known class action attorney Daniel Becnel Jr. is used to the criticism every time he files a new lawsuit. But he maintains he is more interested in those who have been devastated by the recent disasters.

After starting what is expected to be a run of post-Katrina lawsuits weeks ago in connection with levee and floodwall failure in New Orleans that led to flooding for thousands, Becnel was just as quick to head up a second class action suit attempt against Murphy Oil USA for the spillage of thousands of gallons of oil in St. Bernard Parish.

Despite criticism both public and from the business world, Becnel says his concern is for those affected by what he calls the negligence in both cases.

“I don’t give a —— what people think about these suits,” he said. “I’m interested in people who can’t go into their houses, and people who can’t even salvage all their personal memories from years because oil has contaminated their houses. These people are so angry they can’t see straight.”

The latest litigation that appears to be quickly moving forward is the suit from Becnel against Murphy Oil following hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil that spilled from containers in the Meraux refinery.

Becnel said there was already a conference call with U.S. District Court Judge Eldon E. Fallon earlier this week to discuss aspects of the suit. He believes the suit could be settled in under a year.

Murphy Oil spokesperson Mindy West said the company would not comment on the specifics of the lawsuit, but issued the following release in response.

Murphy Oil “believes that insurance coverage exists for this (oil) release and it does not expect to incur significant costs associated with the class action lawsuits. Accordingly, the Company believes that the ultimate resolution of these class action lawsuits will not have a material adverse effect on its net income, financial condition or liquidity in a future period.”

Becnel’s lawsuit is not the only one filed against Murphy Oil for the spill. Other lawsuits have also been filed in the case that Coast Guard officials say affected at least 1,000 homes in St. Bernard Parish.

Coast Guard Capt. Frank Paskewich reported the spill was about 160,000 gallons of oil, however Becnel’s suit claims 890,000 gallons of oil spilled. If the 160,000 gallons is correct, the spill would amount to 62 percent the size of the Exxon Valdez spill, making it clear that Becnel’s contention would dwarf what happened in Alaska for the Valdez spill.

“So far there have been 13 suits filed, but I am attempting to consolidate them all into one class action suit,” Becnel explained.

“There is no question Murphy contaminated the homes and the ground in that area. And it wouldn’t have happened if they would have built their structures properly.”

Becnel’s quick action to sue for hurricane related matters has gotten him national interviews on CNN, Fox and CNBC. But he also showed L’Observateur dozens of e-mails he has gotten from parties to the suit, expressing tremendous gratitude that he is representing them.

“It’s one thing to have your home flooded, but these people can’t even go back to their homes since the oil has contaminated things. I’m more upset about the Murphy Oil spill than even the floodwalls and levee failures. Can you imagine if you can’t even get pictures of your grandparents from your house, and they are lost forever?” he added. “That is what all these people are facing.”

Paskewich said that about 50,000 barrels of the oil was recovered in the early stages after the spill, but much of the rest was disbursed by Katrina’s winds and waves.