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Crist: BP Lawsuit Possible

Gov. Charlie Crist told reporters Tuesday that the state would consider suing BP if the oil company fails to live up to repeated promises to meet its responsibilities in the face of an oil spill that could hit Florida’s Gulf coast.

En route to a flyover of the spill and a meeting in Mobile with state and federal leaders coordinating response, Crist said a lawsuit was “certainly in the realm of possibility” if the company fails to contain the spill and fairly compensate businesses, citizens and governments for their losses.

Company officials say they are ready to stand by the state.

“As a former Floridian,, I know how the beaches are part of your lives, your community and your businesses,” BP spokesman Liz Castro told a group of more than 400 who crammed into a Pensacola Beach church to hear from government and company officials Monday. “BP is responsible for this and we will be here.”

Crist and others urged patience, but also voiced frustration over the pace of protective actions, which must be approved by a company-led oversight board headquartered in Mobile. The governor said local efforts to head off oil or to clean up should be aggressive, while seeking the company's approval. BP is overseeing the cleanup.

BP has earmarked $25 million for Florida for the first wave of cleanup work. The money will be used to repay local governments for work already done. Escambia County, for example, has already spent $1.2 million.

Meanwhile, Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum refuted earlier reports that there is a $75 million cap on economic damages. Though such a cap may be in place on the federal level, the state does not have similar restrictions.

“There is no cap under Florida law,” McCollum said. ”We’re not there yet and we hope we don’t have those damages, but if we do, the citizens and businesses… should understand that they will have that opportunity.”

A recently enacted new law would preclude Florida from paying more than $50 million to lawyers who work on contingency fees should the attorney general's office determine such a case would be too big for in-house attorneys. McCollum pushed for the legislation, which was recently passed and signed by Crist, that seeks to limit how much contingency fee lawyers could earn in such a case.

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