Business of Law

Plaintiff 'titan' files civil racketeering class action against rival PI lawyer in BP oil spill case

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Both Danny Becnel and Mikal Watts are personal injury titans representing plaintiff fishermen in litigation against BP over the 2009 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

But now the two top personal injury lawyers are squaring off against each other: Becnel, a Louisiana lawyer, filed a class action suit against Watts in federal court in New Orleans on Tuesday contending that the Texas practitioner violated civil racketeering laws by pretending to represent Vietnamese-American fishermen and business owners who had never agreed to retain him, according to Bloomberg Businessweek and WWL.

BP filed a similar suit against Watts in federal court in December, alleging “brazen fraud” concerning his claim to represent thousands of clients in oil-spill litigation, including numerous deckhands.

By using the identities of phantom clients, Watts enhanced his profile and obtained more attorney fees in the complex case, the suits allege. BP contends it overpaid, and the fishermen in the latest suit say their damages have been reduced, or at least delayed, because of the claimed misrepresentation.

However, his lawyer, Robert McDuff, told WWL that “Mr. Watts made various filings on behalf of people to preserve their rights to pursue claims. All actions taken were in good faith that legitimate claims were being filed for real people who had been hurt by BP’s gross negligence.”

in a written statement provided to the Associated Press he adds: “Contrary to the allegations, Mr. Watts did not commit identity theft or fraud. He is a lawyer who has spent his life representing the victims of corporate wrongdoing. He devoted thousands of hours to uncovering the misdeeds of BP that led to the oil spill that disrupted the lives of many thousands of people who live in the region.”

This week’s suit seeks unspecified damages. In addition to Watts, it also names as defendants his law firm, Watts Guerra Craft, and two of his partners.

See also:

Houston Chronicle (Feb. 2013): “Feds raid offices of BP plaintiff attorney”

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