For Immediate Release
Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis & Overholtz, based in Pensacola, Florida will argue before Judicial Panel in Boise, Idaho that all BP oil spill lawsuits should be consolidated in the courts of Northern Florida. The Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation (“JPML”) is hearing oral argument this week in Boise, Idaho on whether the BP “Deepwater Horizon” Oil Spill cases should
be consolidated before one United States District Court for pre-trial purposes, and if so, which court would make the most appropriate MDL transferee venue. The Pensacola based law firm of Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis and Overholtz in
conjunction with several other firms have filed a motion with the Panel in which we have argued in favor of MDL
consolidation, and have suggested that the Unites States District Court for the Northern District of Florida would make an appropriate transferee court for consolidation, and in fact would be the most appropriate choice.
Neil Overholtz, partner at the firm has filed the proper paperwork with the panel of judges to present oral argument in favor of this position during the hearing in Boise, where he and Partner Brad Bradford will represent the firm. Mr. Overholtz will argue that the Northern District courts are well suited to manage this MDL for several reasons, including the excellent qualifications and experience of the judiciary in this District, the current docket load relative to the dockets of the other suggested MDL venues like New Orleans and Houston, and the proximity of Pensacola and the Northern District to the bulk of the claims that will be made relative to the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Specifically, claimants in the Florida Panhandle will suffer a significant amount of the economic damages caused by the spill.
A recent study published by Oxford Economics suggest that the likely damages to Florida’s tourism industry will range
between $7 and $23 Billion dollars, which will account for 90% of all tourism damages suffered by the affected coastal states. In comparison, the Louisiana fishing industry is valued at just over $2 Billion overall.
Without disparaging the economic and social impact of the oil spill on other states along the Gulf Coast, there are other compelling arguments for selecting Florida as the most appropriate venue for the litigation. Geographically speaking, Florida has 770 miles of general coastline, almost twice that of any other Gulf State. In addition, Florida has over 2,276 miles of tidal shoreline (8,426 “detailed” miles). More than 500 native species of saltwater fish count Florida’s coasts as their habitat. Florida’s coast also features more islands than any other state besides Alaska, with over 4,500 islands greater than ten acres in size. From Pensacola, to Destin, to the Florida Keys, fishing and related opportunities have been a mainstay of Floridians’ quality of life, as well as a main attraction for their guests. More than two million saltwater
fishermen take advantage of Florida’s unparalleled angling opportunities, accounting for more than 23 million days of fishing. It would also be a grave oversight to fail to mention the significant military installations along the Florida Panhandle and their impact on both Florida’s economy and the well-being of our military.
The crucial role of tourism to the Florida economy is also well-documented. In 2009, over 80 million tourists selected Florida as their destination. The panhandle counties of Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa,Walton, and Bay brought in approximately $854,000,000 from condominium and hotel rentals in 2009. The greater Pensacola area alone has over 7,000 hotel rooms and approximately 3,000 condominiums.
Damage to our beaches from oil contamination has significantly affected the viability and perception of northwest Florida as a premier tourist destination, and Florida courts should have deference in hearing related claims.
It has also been reported that the $20 Billion Dollar BP Claims Fund, when it is established in August, will likely not address many claims by restaurants, servers, musicians, and other service-industry workers.
Further, Mr. Kenneth Feinberg, the appointed administrator of the Fund, selected by BP has stated publicly that claims for hotels and other businesses where oil has not physically touched the property would likely not be covered by the Fund. This obviously represents a significant sector of our coastal economy and a potentially large number of claimants that will be forced to litigate their claims in the MDL. Although the exact methodology of the BP Fund remains to be seen, the possibility exists that Florida will have a disproportionately large number of claims that fall outside of the resolution procedures of the BP Claims Fund. This potential scenario also weighs heavily in favor of transfer to the Northern
District of Florida.
“I grew up in the panhandle, swimming on the beaches from Pensacola to Panama City, and I want to make sure our firm does everything in it’s power to make sure people in our are treated fairly in this process, whether making a claim, or if they need to bring a lawsuit.” –Neil D. Overholtz, Partner