Captain Duck is suing British Petroleum, saying the oil company giant is responsible for his small charter boat business losing tourist customers in Key West.
Although no oil from last month's Deepwater Horizon blowout has reached the Florida Keys, Michael J. Burge, who goes by the nickname Captain Duck, said it's the "perception" that has cost him significant snorkeling, diving, fishing and dolphin encounter business over the past few weeks.
"People think the Exxon Valdez is in the Keys," Burge said Wednesday.
Burge's 3 1/2-year-old company, Key West Tiki Charters Inc., filed a federal class action lawsuit Tuesday against BP America Inc., Transocean Ltd, Haliburton Energy Services and four other companies involved with the gushing oil spill more than 450 miles away in the Gulf of Mexico.
"It's the first of many lawsuits we're going to be filing in federal court in the Keys," said Coral Gables-based attorney Alex Alvarez.
While Key West Tiki Charters currently is the only plantiff in the lawsuit, the complaint estimates the approximate size of the class will be 1,000. Because the situation is evolving, he said he hasn't yet calculated damages.
"There are thousand of commercial fishermen and charter boat captains in the Keys and everyone will have claims because their livelihood has been attacked," Alvarez said.
So far, the Keys commercial fishermen have not lost business with their fishing grounds unaffected by the oil spill.
But Burge said the charter boat captains already have been affected, and just when they were trying to recover from several bad years that started with skyrocketing gas prices and was followed by the economic recession.
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