Originally posted by Emily Pickrell - Houston Chronicle - April 18, 2012
Lawsuits between BP and thousands of plaintiffs claiming economic and medical damages from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill edged closer to resolution Wednesday as the parties filed a proposed class-action settlement in a New Orleans federal court.
The oil company and a steering committee representing plaintiffs asked U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier to approve the settlement, laid out in a 700-page document containing details of an agreement the parties announced March 2.
BP has estimated it will pay $7.8 billion under the settlement, although it contains no cap on total payments.
According to the documents filed Wednesday, the deal also provides for up to $600 million in fees and expenses for plaintiffs' attorneys, a detail not included in the March 2 announcement.
The blowout of BP's Macondo well and resulting explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig - two years ago this Friday - killed 11 workers and caused the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.
"On balance, the agreement creates a comprehensive compensation system, and thus represents a resolution that is more than fair, reasonable, and adequate," the parties said in their filing Wednesday.
They ask Barbier to make a preliminary approval of the class-action structure of the settlement and schedule a hearing in November to determine whether the eligibility requirements and compensation schemes treat potential plaintiffs fairly.
Barbier, who is presiding over a case that combines the mass of litigation arising from the disaster, was set to begin a trial early last month to apportion liability for damages and assess possible negligence, but postponed it indefinitely after the settlement announcement. BP and the plaintiff committee asked Barbier to delay the trial until the settlement is finalized.
The pending settlement agreement does not cover federal, state and local government claims against BP, or any charges that might come out of the Justice Department's continuing criminal investigation.
It also doesn't settle claims and counterclaims among some of the companies that worked on the Macondo well.
But it does transfer to the steering committee BP's claims against Transocean, which operated the Deepwater Horizon, and Halliburton, cement contractor on the well. That allows the committee to pursue the two companies for possible punitive damages.
Transocean and Halliburton declined to comment on the proposed settlement.
But in a related matter, Halliburton said in announcing its first-quarter earnings Wednesday that it has booked $300 million for loss contingencies related to the spill - the first time it has put a dollar amount on its possible exposure and a hint it might be nearing a settlement.
"A $300 million pre-tax charge on Macondo recorded shows some progress in getting (the) issue resolved," wrote Tudor Pickering in an analyst's note, pointing out that recording a charge suggests the company can estimate what it might pay.
As to the settlement before Barbier now, Brent Coon, lawyer for more than 10,000 spill plaintiffs, questioned the long delay before the November hearing on specifics of eligibility and compensation formulas.
He said the formulas offer more generous payments than an existing claim process that the proposed settlement replaces, but won't be applied to claims until sometime in 2013 under the proposed scheduled.
"Six to eight months is not unusual in a normal class action, but this is not a normal class-action settlement," said Coon. "There is already a process in place to pay claims."
He also said delays in the trial on lawsuits by plaintiffs not included in the proposed settlement, such as workers on the Deepwater Horizon or their survivors, will leave them waiting even longer for compensation. Casinos, financial services companies and businesses farther from the coast are also excluded from the settlement.
In the document filed Wednesday, BP and the Plaintiffs Steering Committee ask the court to approve a notification plan, which would advise prospective claimants about the proposed settlement so they can decide whether to participate or opt out.
The notification plan is consistent with what a court likely would expect, said Chris Dean, a Houston-based lawyer representing several plaintiffs in spill claims.
The proposed settlement includes a program to compensate Gulf seafood harvesters for lost catches, and covers a wide range of other economic losses including loss of business, damage to coastal and wetlands property, loss of real estate sales, and lost use of coastal resources for subsistence. It also would pay the costs of medical claims from cleanup workers and others found to have suffered illness as a result of the spill and clean up efforts.
Original article - http://www.chron.com/business/article/BP-some-plaintiffs-ask-court-to-approve-spill-3493169.php