Coastal South Carolina businesses and residents filed several class-action lawsuits against BP, stating that the oil spill has and will hurt tourism and property values.
The lawsuits, filed Sunday, said that BP and its subcontractors on the Deepwater Horizon acted negligently and that the oil spewing from the well has entered the loop current and is threatening South Carolina's beaches, fishing habitats and business interests.
Predictions of traces of oil potentially creeping up the Atlantic coast - including the Carolinas - has affected business at restaurants and caused some tourists with vacation plans along the Grand Strand to consider shifting their destinations, said Tommy Brittain, a local attorney who is representing some of the businesses that filed the lawsuit. Edward Bell, a Georgetown lawyer who is leading the case, could not be reached for comment.
"It's already having some impact and it is likely to have an even bigger impact on coastal business," Brittain said. "The potential for disaster as far as our coastal communities are concerned is just sort of overwhelming."
BP declined to comment on the lawsuits, as the company does not comment on ongoing litigation, spokesman Max McGahan said.
There's no dollar figure on the losses along the Grand Strand yet, but the amount could swell if the oil creeps closer to the Carolinas, Brittain said.
Oil has been gushing into the Gulf for 50 days and has become the largest oil spill in the country's history. BP has struggled to stop the flow, with a company official saying Tuesday that it expects to be capturing virtually all the oil leaking from the Gulf floor by early next week.
A relief well expected to stop the flow is expected to be done in August.
That's not good enough for local businesses whose livelihoods could be threatened, and BP should be held accountable for the negative affect the spill could cause here, Brittain said.
Hotelier Bert Anderson said the lawsuit was mainly filed in anticipation of the problems that coastal commercial property owners may face.
"We are concerned about the issue that is probably facing us late summer and the impact it would have on the properties," said Anderson, who is one of the property owners who sued. "There could be a direct drop in business if the shoreline is impacted.
"We certainly don't need another financial blow in this economy," he said.
Experts differ on the chances of oil or tar balls reaching the Carolinas - but even the speculation could keep tourists away, Brittain said, comparing it to hurricane predictions that can keep vacationers away even if the storm shifts and never brushes the Carolinas coast.
The three separate lawsuits represent different types of people and businesses affected - one a group of oceanfront property owners; the second, restaurants that are impacted and commercial oceanfront property holders.
In the suit filed by the Divine Fish House, other restaurants and businesses, the companies claim that the oil spill has threatened tourism.
"The attractions, hotels, restaurants and coastal retail establishments are just some of the South Carolina coastal businesses that owe their economic survival and success to vacationing tourists," the court filing said.
"Once it became clear that early oil spill containment efforts had failed, the tourism industry in South Carolina was immediately affected."
The filing said that while no oil has washed up onto a South Carolina beach, tourists are staying away because they have heard reports that the spill may affect the area.
The filing said that the companies' revenues are almost exclusively dependant on tourism.
The number of customers seems to be getting worse every day and the businesses don't see any signs of relief, according to the filing.
In the lawsuit filed by The Litchfield Co. LLC and others, the companies said that property values have already begun to drop as a result of the reports predicting oil heading to the area. The lawsuit filed by a group of property owners also addresses the declining property values and the loss of the use of recreational and natural spaces.
The companies and individuals suing are asking the court to grant them the ability to proceed as a class-action suit and are asking for at least $5 million in damages.
Staff reporter Jake Spring contributed to this report.