Mobile County fisherman sues BP; claims oil spill ills including painful rashes

Friday, July 9, 2010
By Paul Martin

Brendan Kirby
Friday, July 09, 2010

MOBILE, Ala. — An Axis man who claims he was sickened by oil while fishing in Mobile Bay in May has filed a lawsuit against BP PLC and other companies involved in the Deepwater Horizon drilling operation.

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, differs in several ways from the scores of other suits filed against BP since the April 20 explosion of the Gulf of Mexico drilling rig.

Unlike most of the other legal actions, which allege economic damage suffered by various groups of businesses and workers, the suit filed by Obie Carlisle at the end of last month alleges adverse health effects inflicted on a recreational fisherman.

And while the vast majority of the BP litigation has hit the federal courts, this one was filed in Mobile County Circuit Court.

“The gross negligence and recklessness of BP is destroying people’s lives in so many different ways that they must be punished to the full extent of the law,” plaintiff’s lawyer Ron Motley said in a prepared statement. “For Obie Carlisle, BP not only damaged his health, causing serious injury; it took away his greatest joy, which was to fish in the Gulf’s once-fertile waters.”

Ray Mellick, a BP spokesman, said the company has a general policy of not commenting on pending litigation.

Kevin Dean, an attorney with the South Carolina law firm representing Carlisle, said in an interview today that he is not aware of any other BP lawsuits that address the health impact of the spill.

“I think people are not focused on it,” he said. “They don’t want to exercise their right, or they’re scared into submission by BP.”

Read the complete lawsuit in PDF format

According to the allegations, Carlisle, a painter by trade, went flounder fishing on May 28 and May 29 in Mobile Bay east of Dauphin Island. When he got out of the water on the 29th, according to his attorneys, he began suffering painful rashes, nosebleeds, nasal blockages and shortness of breath — symptoms that persist to this day.

According to the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, oil at the mouth of Mobile Bay was first detected on June 1. The state issued a fishing ban on waters from Dauphin Island east on June 4.

Dean said his client’s doctor diagnosed him with chemical burns or exposure consistent with oil. He said Carlisle’s biggest concern is the long-term threat of cancer.

It was not until June, after Carlisle’s exposure, that state officials began posting swimming advisories and close local waters to fishing.

The civil complaint offers one of the most detailed allegations of alleged wrongdoing by BP and its partners.

The complaint alleges that BP, because of delays in the project, pushed to speed the drilling.

“This emphasis on speed over safety led to errors and omissions by the Drilling Defendants, which in turn caused and/or contributed to the initial explosion and subsequent Oil Spill,” the suit states. Four weeks before the blowout, BP and the other companies became aware that the drill pipe had intruded into the blowout preventer, damaging it. Yet, the companies ignored the problems and failed to report them to outside sources, according to the allegations.

The suit also suggests that the Deepwater Horizon may have been drilling deeper than its permitted depth.

The suit also accuses the defendants of ignoring signs of an imminent blowout on the day of the explosion.

The lawsuit also faults the BP’s actions before and after the spill, accusing the company of understating the risks of a blowout and overstating its ability to respond to a massive leak. The suit cites a 2009 exploration plan submitted to federal regulators stating that “no adverse impacts are expected” to the coast in the “unlikely” event of a spill.

The suit also faults BP and the other defendants for not taking steps to prevent a leak, such as installing a backup blowout preventer. It quotes from a 2004 federal study, which found that only three of 74 rigs in the Gulf had blowout preventers strong enough to squeeze off and cut the pipe at water pressures that are present at maximum depth.

“This grim snapshot illustrates the lack of preparedness in the industry to shear and seal a well with the last line of defense against a Blowout,” the report states.

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