BP Spill Law Report — June is Last Call for Claims

In case you’ve lost focus over the five-year process, here’s a quick update on where we are with the various lawsuits filed in response to BP PLC over the explosion and sinking of its Deepwater Horizon rig off the Louisiana coast. The April 2010 event killed 11 workers and triggered the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history as oil spilled into the Gulf for weeks.

The Clean Water Act trial finished its third phase in New Orleans after weeks of testimony that concluded in early February. The ruling isn’t expected immediately, and attorneys may file additional briefs in the case as late as April. U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier heard the case in New Orleans.

Attorneys for BP argued that the company put forth a “robust” effort to contain the spill and clean up oil in the water and along the Gulf Coast. For his part, Judge Barbier has already ruled that BP acted with “gross negligence, ” which BP is appealing, and that the spill amounted to 3.19 million barrels. The combination of those two decisions could mean a price tag to BP of $13.7 billion in Clean Water Act fines. BP says it has already spent $42 billion in claims, penalties and cleanup costs.

Any money paid to the government from that case would have, in the past, gone into the U.S. treasury. The scope of damage here brought about the Restore Act, which guarantees that Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida will see significant funding to rebuild and repair.

More importantly for Alabama businesses, the U.S. Supreme Court late last year denied BP’s petition to challenge the class settlement reached in New Orleans federal court and the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. That means Alabama businesses that have already filed claims are in play; the settlement ensures those claims will be processed.

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“As one of several firms that acted as class council, we’re delighted, because there’s now an objective financial database causation test that the Supreme Court has upheld, ” says Rhon Jones, principal & toxic torts section head of Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles PC.

“If a business meets what I deem to be those transparent objective data-driven formulas, then that business can file a claim, ” Jones says. Businesses have until June 8 to file.

“I do suspect that there are many businesses, for many reasons, that have not yet filed a claim. History tells us in any claims process there will be people who wait to the end.”

Lastly, Alabama still has the option of putting BP on trial here for damages and economic losses to the state and businesses, such as banks, that were not included in the private settlement. That trial, if it occurs, has not yet been set.

“The state of Alabama, in large part due to the efforts of Attorney General Luther Strange, who’s done an excellent job representing the state, has positioned itself so it can be the first state to go to trial, ” Jones says.

Text by Dave Helms

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