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Teams of lawyers from around the nation are mobilizing for a gargantuan legal battle over the massive Gulf Coast oil spill, filing multiple lawsuits in recent days that together could dwarf the half-billion dollars awarded in the Exxon Valdez disaster two decades ago.

If the oil slick fouls popular beaches, ruins fisheries and disrupts traffic on the Mississippi River, attorneys say there could be hundreds of thousands of plaintiffs from Texas to Florida seeking monetary damages from oil producer BP PLC and other companies that ran the Transocean Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.

At least 26 federal lawsuits have been filed since the spill by commercial fishermen, charter boat captains, resort management companies and individual property owners in Louisiana, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. Many of the suits claim the disaster was caused when workers for oil services contractor Halliburton Inc. improperly capped a well — a process known as cementing. Halliburton denied that. Investigators are still looking into the cause.

Capt. Mike "Sandbar" Salley, who runs Sure Shot Charters out of Orange Beach, Ala., is one of many fishermen watching helplessly as customers cancel fishing excursions at the start of a busy summer season, in which he makes 80 percent of his income. Salley, 51, is a plaintiff in one of the potential class-action lawsuits seeking to recover damages from the operators of the sunken oil rig.


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