New Orleans News Source, WWL, published an investigative article on Thursday evening examining Legacy Lawsuits, specifically one brought by former Governor Mike Foster not too long ago. A legacy lawsuit refers to a lawsuit by a landowner claiming that oil and gas operations, often many years ago, caused his property to become polluted and contaminated. Louisiana residents will likely remember that Gov. Foster supported tort reform and was successful in passing a “package of bills” in favor of big business.
Ironically, in 2010, Foster filed a legacy lawsuit, Maryland Co. vs. Exxon, asking for a multimillion dollar judgment to compensate for environmental damages to his property. Foster’s suit is just one of 360 lawsuits bought by landowners claiming contamination by the oil and gas industry and requesting damages.
“He’s the governor that took away punitive damages in April of 1996, soon after he got into office,” said Foster’s attorney, Glad Jones. “But on behalf of his family partnership, when he discovered the damage that had been done to his property as a result of 50 years of oil and gas activities, he was left in no other position really other than to bring a lawsuit asking the oil companies to clean up the property.”
Though Foster fought hard for big business, big business did not reciprocate when informed of the contamination to Foster’s land. Foster eventually was successful in his lawsuit in 2012.
Jones states that Foster had no choice but to file suit because the industry, as well as the state, floundered. Back in 1987, state regulators flew over Foster’s property near Centreville and discovered “pollution leaking from an unlined oil waste pit into 100 acres of freshwater marsh.” The State documented the contamination in photos, but the information was not disclosed to Foster.
After more than two decades, Foster finally discovered the contamination, and those photographs, among other information, were exposed during litigation.
The WWL piece “Tainted Legacy” highlights the most interesting aspect of these lawsuits: out of about 360 legacy lawsuits, only 137 oilfield sites have been verified as contaminated by state regulators. Of those, only 12 sites have been cleaned to state standards, despite hundreds of millions of dollars paid in legal damages. Those hudreds of millions of dollars in legal damages have gone straight to the plaintiffs – some of Louisiana’s wealthiest residents. More, many of these plaintiffs, Foster included, have been supporting the oil industry for years.
Click here to read the entire article about legacy lawsuits in Louisiana and the irony surrounding them.