The following article was originally published on DailyComet.com on August 13, 2019, written by Dan Copp. It can be viewed at at https://www.dailycomet.com/news/20190813/thibodaux-attorney-sues-national-law-firms-over-bp-claims.
A local attorney has filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court against several national law firms in connection with the 2010 BP oil spill.
The suit, filed May 13 in U.S. District Court in New Orleans by Thibodaux attorney Jerald Block, seeks to recover damages for breach of contract, professional malpractice and fraud caused by several law firms that represented victims of the Deepwater Horizon disaster and resulting oil spill.
The complaint alleges that a non-Louisiana law group viewed the oil spill as “an opportunity to make a quick buck.”
“Instead of representing their clients’ interests,” the suit alleges, “the national law firms failed to file and pursue hundreds and maybe thousands of claims, leaving their previous clients uncompensated for their loss.”
The law firms tried to cover up their misconduct by misleading many clients into believing their claims were properly and timely filed and still pending, Block said.
Recreational fishermen affected by the oil spill were given the opportunity in 2012 to file subsistence claims against BP for losses after the Gulf of Mexico was closed for fishing, Block said. Fishermen in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida hired various law firms to file BP claims.
The lawsuit names as defendants the Howard L. Nations Law Firm from Houston, Joseph A. Motta, a California law attorney, the Mississippi-based Nick’s Law Firm and the Rueb & Motta Law Firm in California. The defendants formed a joint venture in 2015 to target coastal residents’ claims, Block said.
Deborah and Ray Gaudet were among many people who lived along the coast and sustained damages resulting from the spill, Block said.
“They did not file suit against BP nor did they engage attorneys until June 1, 2015, when they were advised that out-of-state lawyers were hosting meetings in various locations,” the lawsuit says. “The meetings were designed by the defendant law firms to solicit clients in order for the defendant law firms to submit claims in the BP settlement program.”
The efforts to sign up clients were highly successful in that the law firms handled more than 10,000 local claims, Block said. The firms specifically targeted Lafourche and Terrebonne claimants, some of whom received substantial compensation for their losses.
However, according to Block, not all claimants were treated fairly or appropriately by the national law firms.
“Many local residents have been deprived of their legitimate rights by the callous actions of these national law firms,” Block said. “They should be and will be held accountable. The Gaudets, my classmates in high school, believed their legal claim would be appropriately pursued by these national law firms who solicited their claim. They were deceived and so were many other local residents who trusted out-of-state lawyers to pursue their BP claim. The conduct of the lawyers has been shameful.”
Block said the Gaudets approached him in May about the issue. The couple believed Nations and his partners had filed their claim before the June 2015 deadline but received a letter in March stating their BP claim had been denied.
“The letter raised Deborah Gaudet’s suspicions,” Block said. “She was sent a form letter from Nations dated Oct. 31, 2018. However, the Gaudets did not receive it until March 2019. After investigating, Deborah was shocked and upset. She learned her BP claim had never been filed by Nations and the other national law firms.”
The incident prompted a lengthy investigation conducted by the Block Law Firm that ultimately uncovered the alleged legal malpractice, Block said.
Believing that many more people may have been affected, Block filed the legal malpractice lawsuit, contending that Nations and the other firms “negligently and fraudulently handled the Gaudets’ claims.”
Concerned about the local impact, Block said he began to determine if other people in the area had a similar experience.
As of today, hundreds of claimants have come forward to participate in the lawsuit against their former lawyers, Block said.
Though the defendants did not respond to requests for comment, Motta filed a response Aug. 5 claiming his firm did not exist during the time of the alleged wrongdoing.
“Since its inception in 2017, (Joseph A. Motta) never worked on, oversaw, represented or did any legal work for subsistence claimants in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill litigation and settlement, which is the basis for this pending matter,” Motta wrote. “Since its inception on Oct. 1, 2017, (Joseph A. Motta) has never received any compensation from any subsistence claims, never availed itself to the privilege of conducting activities within Louisiana, and (Joseph A. Motta) has never had any contacts with or did any legal work on any claim or lawsuit for any person or entity in the state of Louisiana.”
Motta contended that his firm has not represented any client or conducted any legal business outside of California. Motta said in court papers he originally owned 50 percent of co-defendant Rueb and Motta but has since left that firm.
The plaintiffs are requesting a trial by jury.
—Staff Writer [for Daily Comet] Dan Copp can be reached at 448-7639 or at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @DanVCopp.