Leaving a legacy

Leaving a legacy

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While the legislation had not achieved final passage as of this writing, landowners, politicians, and the oil and gas industry appeared to have reached a compromise on the contentious “legacy lawsuit” issue, so named because the environmental destruction alleged in such suits often happened decades ago.

The agreement would allow a party to admit responsibility for harming someone's property without also admitting liability for private damages tied to the environmental issues. However, the guilty party would waive any contractual rights to indemnification for punitive damages, meaning they could still be sued. Once a party admits responsibility for an environmental problem, state regulators will create a cleanup plan, which will be admissible in court. The industry pushed hard for that last point; their hope is that if regulators say a cleanup only costs, say, $1 million, a jury will be less likely to call for an astronomical punitive judgment.

Louisiana Oil & Gas Association President Don Briggs says he believes the agreement “will ensure timely regulatory cleanup of the land while protecting a landowner's right to recover damages.

Don Carmouche, a Baton Rouge attorney who has brought more than 100 so-called legacy suits, says the new legislation creates hurdles for his clients but still allows them access to the courts. He also points out that lawmakers thought they had reached a workable compromise in 2006, only to try again last year and this year, and says he hopes industry representatives don't try to extract more concessions later.

“Certainly, it should be clear that they shouldn't come back next year or the following year and want something more,” Carmouche says.

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