New York state’s pension fund plans to sue BP over the plunge in the company’s share price following the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster in the latest sign of the legal storm brewing for the company in the US.
The fund has hired Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, a leading law firm specialising in alleged securities fraud, to pursue claims that BP misled investors over its safety record and ability to deal with oil leaks.
The fund has a history of acting as lead plaintiff in actions in which investors club together to launch claims against companies that can run into billions of dollars.
“BP misled investors about its safety procedures and its ability to respond to events like the ongoing oil spill and we’re going to hold it accountable,” said Thomas DiNapoli, New York state comptroller and trustee of the $132.6bn (£88.8bn) pension fund.
US plaintiff lawyers have already filed more than 150 class actions against BP, with claimants ranging from shrimpers to stockholders who have seen the value of their investments slashed in the disaster.
The company – which has seen more than £50bn wiped off its share price since the crisis began – has already agreed to set up a $20bn fund to deal with some of the legal claims.
News of the latest lawsuit came as BP was forced to remove the cap collecting oil from its leaking well after an underwater robot bumped into the venting system.
Crews were last night checking whether dangerous ice-like crystals had formed there. If none are found, the cap could be be replaced within hours.
BP also announced it had created the Gulf Coast Restoration Organisation, and put Bob Dudley, the former head of its Russian venture TNK-BP, in charge.
Mr Dudley has been one of the most senior members of the team responding to the spill and was key in negotiating the $20bn claims fund BP and the White House set up last week.
The decision removes Tony Hayward, BP’s chief executive, from his much-criticised position as BP’s most visible executive dealing with the accident.
Separately, Thad Allen, the government’s most senior official overseeing the battle to stop the leak, on Wednesday announced the effort’s first two fatalities, one on land and one at sea.