TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The state of Florida filed a lawsuit Saturday against oil company BP and cement contractor Halliburton over the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, becoming the fourth state to seek damages for the 2010 disaster.
The suit, among other things, faults BP for not changing the batteries on the rig’s blowout preventer. Halliburton was blamed for installing faulty cement barriers that were supposed to gird the well against oil pressure.
The 40-page complaint by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi was filed in U.S. District Court in Panama City. The federal court has jurisdiction under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.
Bondi filed suit on the three-year anniversary of the tragedy that killed 11 rig workers in the Gulf of Mexico. Florida is now the fourth state to sue over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill; Mississippi sued on Friday.
Louisiana and Alabama sued BP earlier and are participating in a federal trial that is ongoing in New Orleans to determine the liability of BP and others. Cities and counties along the coast also have filed.
Earlier this week, the Houston City Council voted in a 10-5 decision to sue BP for more than $23 million in connection with the Gulf spill. The city will seek to recover sales tax and hotel tax revenues lost after the incident prompted the federal government to impose a drilling moratorium in the Gulf of Mexico, harming companies and cutting business travel, City Attorney David Feldman said.
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A BP spokesman declined comment and Halliburton spokespeople were not immediately available.
A note on BP’s website Saturday from BP America Chairman and President John Mingé said, “On the third anniversary of the tragic accident in the Gulf of Mexico, our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of our 11 colleagues who died and those injured.”
A battery-operated blowout preventer, powered by “a series of 9-volt battery packs,” was supposed to activate automatically but didn’t, according to the suit, because BP didn’t replace the batteries.
“BP knew or should have known that the manufacturer recommended replacement of the batteries in the battery packs at least once per year,” the suit said. Divers later couldn’t manually turn it on, either. The suit also blames BP for installing a defective valve on the same blowout preventer.
The spill fouled 1,100 miles of beaches and marsh along the Gulf coast, keeping away waves of summer tourists who swim and fish in the waters.
“Indeed, Florida relies on the pristine nature of the Gulf of Mexico as the source for much of the attraction of patrons, tourists and visitors,” the suit said.
The suit focuses on the state’s economic losses and includes negligence and other claims under federal, state and maritime law.
Bondi argues that the 2010 spill cost the state a variety of tax revenues, including sales taxes, gasoline taxes, cigarette surcharges and beer, wine and liquor taxes.
About 85 million people visit Florida each year, generating $80 billion of business in the state, according to the complaint.
“Without this level of tourism, Florida suffers, as do many of the local people and communities who are supported by it,” the complaint said. Moreover, BP “publicly acknowledged that it would cover or otherwise make funds available for damages … as a result of the spill.”
The state also seeks punitive damages, calling it “…the worst oil spill in American history, with the unfettered release of millions of gallons directly into the Gulf of Mexico (that went) unchecked for months.”
Warnings of a leak prior to the blowout went unheeded by BP’s and Halliburton’s rig employees for nearly an hour, the suit said, adding that fire prevention and alarm systems on the rig also failed.
Florida’s suit is based on the legal doctrine of “res ipsa loquitur,” which presumes defendants’ negligence — even without first-hand evidence — if they had exclusive control of whatever causes an accident.
Houston Chronicle reporter Mike Morris contributed to this report.