Indian Rocks Beach remains untouched by the BP oil spill in 2010, but tourism was down that year causing a financial loss to the city, thus a claim against BP is being made.
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – The Indian Rocks Beach City Commission voted unanimously to give the go-ahead to the national law firm of Motley Rice to film a claim against the BP oil company for damages suffered in the offshore spill in the summer of 2010. The claim is for $3.14 million dollars.
The commission held a special meeting Jan. 16 to decide whether to proceed with the claim or not. They had two days before the deadline for claims was due.
Attorney Rick Kriseman, of the local firm of Lucas, Green and Magazine, was acting on behalf of Motley Rice. He told the commission that an extensive study done by the accounting firm of Dixon Hughes Goodman showed that the city lost over $3 million because of the spill.
“Given the amount of business lost in Pinellas County it is hard to imagine that the city didn’t lose something,” he said. “They pay taxes and if they aren’t paying the same amount of taxes, how are you not suffering a loss? It is revenue that would have made its way into your general revenues.”
It had been decided soon after the spill that government entities would not be eligible for claims against BP. Businesses and private industries were the only ones who could take action. However, that changed and last summer two firms approached Indian Rocks Beach seeking to represent the city in making a claim. Motley Rice was ultimately chosen.
The firm, with offices in several states, also represents the cities of Gulfport and New Port Richey and Pasco County in making claims against BP.
Commissioner Phil Hanna wondered what BP’s track record was in paying such claims. Kriseman responded that it would be difficult to tell because municipalities have just begun to file claims.
“The claim that is going to be filed will be following the claims that have been filed before,” he said. “If we have done everything that is appropriate as those that have been accepted, then we should be alright. That would be the logical answer, but as we know logic doesn’t always prevail in such circumstances.”
Kriseman said the first part of the process once the claim is filed is a 90-day window in which BP will decide what to do.
“They can decide to settle the claim as soon as they get it,” he said. “Or they can come back with a counter-offer which I will bring back to you. Or they can reject the claim outright, in which case we can decide to take them to court.”
Commissioner Terry Hamilton-Wollin said that just because the commission is giving Motley Rice the go-ahead to file a claim doesn’t automatically mean that they will go to court if BP doesn’t settle. Kriseman replied that any court action would have to be approved by the commission as another step in the process.
Kriseman noted that BP would have to decide whether it is cheaper in the long run to settle than to head to court.
“BP knows its exposure in this case,” he said. “We feel confident about this, although there are no guarantees. Clearly, the numbers that you have given us say that you sustained a loss and we should be able to recover that. Ideally they would accept the report of the forensic accountants and pay the amount submitted to them.”
City Manager Chuck Coward said the document produced by the accountants remains confidential because of the potential of court action. He said once a settlement is reached or court action begins that document will be made public.
Back when the issue of filing a claim against BP first came up, Coward said he did not believe the city had suffered any damage because of the BP spill. Now he said he was wrong based on the study.
The city will not have to pay any legal fees at all but if a settlement is reached then Motley Rice will get 20 percent of the total, according to Coward.
Commissioners voted unanimously to give Motley Rice the go-ahead. Before adjourning the meeting, Mayor Johnson remarked, “I just hope something comes of this, but I know we have to be patient.”