According to a recent article in the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express, thousands of claimants damaged by the 2010 oil spill will have to decide soon whether to participate in a class action settlement without knowing what the offer will be. The Deepwater Horizon Claims Center was created by a federal judge overseeing the BP litigation. The purpose was apparently to coordinate claims under the settlement. As of last week, it was reported only 3,347 or 5% of the 60,000 businesses and individuals who filed claims have gotten settlement offers.
BP and a committee representing private plaintiffs agreed in early March to a settlement BP estimates will cost $7.8 billion, although the deal places no cap on how much the British oil company will end up paying. According to the agreement, claimants have until November 1st to opt out and pursue claims on their own. Many lawyers representing some of these individuals say the slow pace of settlement offers makes the decision impossible. “How in the world can anyone decide to opt in or out when they have not heard from the claims facility what their offer is?” asked Houston-based attorney Chris Dean, who said most of the spill claimants he represents have not received any information about their claims. Claims administrators have said they hope to issue settlement offers or denials on 30 percent of the claims by October 1st.
The Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee, which negotiated the deal with BP, had no comment on last week’s report, but BP said it shows the process is moving forward. “BP appreciates the efforts of the court-supervised settlement program in establishing in short order a claims process to implement the many claims protocols set forth in the settlement agreement,” spokesman Scott Dean said. Plaintiff attorneys were more critical. They noted that when the settlement deal was announced, both sides promised the Deepwater Horizon Claims Center would improve upon an earlier system, the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, which had a reputation for being opaque and slow in making settlement offers. “I’m sure everyone has the best intentions, but I have 15,000 cases, over 1,000 submitted and only one case settled,” Beaumont lawyer Brent Coon said. “It’s very disturbing and disconcerting that four months into this program so few cases are solved. United States District Judge Carl Barbier of New Orleans, who is overseeing litigation arising from the spill, tentatively has approved the settlement and has set a hearing for November 8th to hear testimony before making a final decision.