JACKSON — Attorney General Jim Hood, who has been watching the oil spill and BP’s actions, says the state needs an open claims process to better meet victim’s needs. He also has released conditions he has demanded of BP.
In a statement, Hood said: “As a veteran of Mississippi’s battle with the insurance companies after Hurricane Katrina, I came to the quick understanding that we need an open claims process to allow victims to be paid quickly to prevent them from losing their property and businesses to foreclosure. The lawsuits and investigations will take time, but victims need money now to stay afloat.
“In order to establish the claims process, which began at the first meeting with the five coastal attorneys general and BP general counsel in my office, I demanded that no claimant to the fund established by BP be required to sign a waiver of their right to sue later and that BP waive the $75-million statutory liability cap. BP agreed to both.
“ I also demanded the following: (1) that the claims process be available on BP’s website including a claims manual establishing the rules; (2) that the attorneys general from the coastal states appoint an independent claims monitor to see how fast and fair claims are being paid; (3) that BP delete all waivers of liability previously signed by our citizens who have been employed by BP to fight the oil slick; and (4) that I and my fellow coast attorneys general have access to the BP claims database. BP has agreed to these demands and, thus far, has paid $5.5 million for 4,034 claims in Mississippi.
“However, in order for me to fully embrace and encourage victims to use the BP claims process, I have demanded that, if the State of Mississippi and BP cannot settle the case, and the state has to file a suit in state court, then BP must agree not to attempt to remove the case to federal court. BP and Transocean have revealed their legal strategy by filing actions before federal judges in Houston, Texas, in an attempt to drag all claims by individuals, businesses and the state and federal governments into a foreign jurisdiction. We want the claims made by the State of Mississippi to be decided by a Mississippi state court. We do not want a dime more than we are entitled to, but I also will not take a dime less.
“Although BP has worked with the coastal attorneys general, that does not allow me to forgive them for the short cuts that this corporation and the other responsible parties took in causing this oil disaster.
“I and two of my colleagues recently met with Attorney General Eric Holder and members of the Department of Justice. We all agreed to work together to make sure that we review every document, interview every witness, and leave no stone unturned to hold those individuals and companies responsible to the fullest extent of the law.
“ The insurance industry abused the federal court system to delay the state court suit, which my office filed within two weeks of Katrina. It took Mississippi four years to bring the issue before our Mississippi Supreme Court, where it rightfully belonged. Just this past October, the Court ruled in our favor nine to zero. It was a hollow victory indeed because at the time of the decision most everyone already had settled.
“I will fight to make sure the oil companies do not abuse the federal system to delay justice due the people of Mississippi. In fact, during my testimony before the Congressional House Judiciary Committee, I proposed legislation, which will prohibit companies from seeking to drag claims filed by the states into federal court. If the 11th Amendment to our United States Constitution has any meaning left, it is that state claims should be litigated in our state courts.
“Several cities and counties are concerned that Gov. Barbour has not given them access to the $25 million that BP gave the state to take steps to prevent the oil from coming ashore. Our Coast communities are asking about berms and mesh baskets of oil absorbent linked together to create a barrier a few yards off shore. I am meeting with local leaders tomorrow to see if they need for me to go directly to BP to make sure these safety steps will be paid for by BP.
“Many have already suffered a tremendous economic loss. I pray that the winds and currents will continue to help us avoid devastating environmental losses. However, as the state’s chief law enforcement officer, I must prepare for the worst. The state is ready. We have gathered our evidence, including pictures, video, water quality samples and counts of the water grass, fish and birds. I just hope that those responsible for this unprecedented disaster will do what is right so that such evidence need not be used.”