Faegre Files Suit Against BP on Behalf of Gulf Fishermen

The firm is representing 495 fishermen who allege that they were not properly compensated under a program through which BP chartered their boats for use in cleaning up the oil spill.

Minneapolis-based law firm Faegre & Benson, LLP, on Tuesday filed a lawsuit on behalf of nearly 500 fishermen against affiliates of London-based British Petroleum (BP) related to clean-up efforts following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Court documents indicate that Faegre & Benson is representing 495 “shrimpers, crabbers, and oystermen” who took part in BP's “Vessels of Opportunity” program. According to a description on BP's Web site, the Vessels of Opportunity effort involved contracting with commercial and charter fishing vessels and crews from the Gulf Coast to help clean up the spill. Faegre & Benson filed its 17-page complaint in U.S. District Court in Eastern Louisiana.

Faegre & Benson said in a news release that the fishermen “have neither been paid the amounts that BP agreed to pay them for use of their boats nor have had had their boats decontaminated at BP's expense,” as promised by the program. By failing to decontaminate the boats, BP “forced fishermen to keep their boats idle at the docks and available for BP's use at any time,” Faegre said.

According to the suit, the contracts give BP control over the participating fishermen's boats until the vessels have been decontaminated and require BP to compensate the boat owners at a daily rate until the decontamination occurs. The daily rates specified in the contracts range from $1,200 to $3,000 per day, depending on vessel size, the suit contends. Many boat owners spent weeks or months attempting to get BP to decontaminate their vessels, and some remain contaminated today, according to the suit, which seeks unspecified damages.

Public court documents indicate that the BP affiliates have not yet formally responded to the lawsuit. Media reports and press releases from other law firms show that other similar lawsuits related to the Vessels of Opportunity program have recently been filed. According to an online report by Alabama newspaper Press-Register, BP paid out more than $600 million to boat owners and crew members last summer under the program.

The suit filed by Faegre & Benson claims that BP breached its contract and has also attempted to convince the fishermen to sign new contracts that alter the compensation agreement. It also alleges that BP “misled” the fishermen-many of whom are Vietnamese-American-by not providing the contract and other key documents in the Vietnamese language.

“BP contracted with these people to be available 24/7 for clean-up operations,” Gerry Nolting, a partner at Faegre & Benson who represents the fishermen, said in a statement. “BP agreed to pay them for their active participation in clean up, for 'stand-by time,' and for decontaminating their boats after the clean-up work is done. Now they are reneging on that agreement.”

As of April, Faegre & Benson had 304 licensed Minnesota attorneys-more than any other firm within the state. It announced last month plans to merge with Indianapolis-based Baker & Daniels, LLP. The combined entity, which will employ 770 lawyers, will begin operations as Faegre Baker Daniels on January 1.