An attorney who spent 21 years representing Alaska residents and fishermen after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill said he's considering getting involved in the recent spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Brian O'Neill, a partner with Faegre and Benson, said it's a tough decision, because lawsuits over oil spills can last for years. The lawsuits O'Neill was involved with in the Exxon Valdez spill were not resolved until last month.
O'Neill said it could take just as long for BP to settle claims with residents and industries in the Gulf.
"It has to make a decision about whether it's going to get in there and try to settle these cases early on or wage World War III like Exxon did for 21 years," O'Neill told MPR's Cathy Wurzer.
So far, O'Neill said BP has promised to pay all legitimate, documented claims. But he said it doesn't help that it appears BP has already made misstatements about the amount of oil spilled.
One reason litigation in an oil spill case can take so long is that it can take years to recognize the full effects of a spill. For example, some fish die off right away, while it takes other species several years to become affected.
"You have to sort of sit back and see what the full scopes of your damages are," O'Neill said.
O'Neill recently published an op-ed piece in the Washington Post that included his advice for suing BP. He said people in the Gulf Coast should avoid settling too early and should hire a lawyer who is willing to stick with the case.
O'Neill also warned that long-term litigation can take a toll.
"Over 21 years, we saw a lot of bankruptcies, divorces, deaths," he said. "It was hard on everybody."