BP Plc urged a federal judge to approve a proposed $7.8 billion settlement of thousands of claims by coastal businesses and property owners who sued over economic damages from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
“The settlement will bring full compensation to all class members, including those on the Gulf Coast, while resolving a major component of the Deepwater Horizon litigation,” BP lawyers said yesterday in a court filing in New Orleans. “The alternative is all-out litigation that would last many years and have an uncertain outcome for class members.”
Lawyers representing more than 13,000 spill victims have attacked the settlement, BP said in the filing. Fewer than 1,000 claimants have formally opted out of the deal so far, BP said. The objectors represent “only a small fraction of the total class members,” the company said.
BP, based in London, agreed in March to pay an estimated $7.8 billion to resolve most private plaintiffs’ claims for economic loss, property damage and injuries. The settlement, reached days before a scheduled trial on liability for the 2010 spill, doesn’t cover federal government claims and those of the Gulf Coast states. Plaintiffs’ lawyers who negotiated the settlement with BP also asked the judge to approve the agreement, saying it will prevent years of litigation.
Also excluded are claims of financial institutions, casinos, private plaintiffs in parts of Florida and Texas, and residents and businesses claiming harm from the Obama administration’s moratorium on deep-water drilling prompted by the spill. The settlement comprises two agreements -- one over medical claims, the other on economic and property damage.
Spill victims who don’t like the proposed accord have until Nov. 1 to notify the court they don’t want to be part of it. U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier will hear arguments on the settlement at a Nov. 8 fairness hearing.
A nonjury trial over liability for the April 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and the subsequent oil spill is set for Jan. 14 before Barbier in New Orleans.
Criticism of BP’s proposed settlement has centered in large part on victims’ fears that businesses and individuals that depend on the Gulf seafood industry won’t be adequately compensated if regional fish populations nosedive in a few years as a result of the spill.
Victims objecting have cited the collapse of the Alaskan herring fishery three years after the wreck of the Exxon Valdez tanker as evidence they shouldn’t prematurely settle with BP.
A “scientific consensus has formed” that the Exxon Valdez didn’t cause the herring collapse and that Gulf of Mexico fisheries are already strongly rebounding from the 2010 spill, BP said in yesterday’s filing.
The company urged Barbier not to hold hostage to the complaints of a few objectors a settlement that would benefit many. The judge is overseeing pretrial proceedings for more than 500 spill-damage lawsuits consolidated in his New Orleans court.
“This small group of objectors has a simple solution to their complaints,” BP’s lawyers said. “Opt out.”
Many of the objections to the settlement have been brought by people or businesses that were excluded from the agreement reached in March, Stephen Herman and James Roy, lawyers for the plaintiffs, said in a separate filing yesterday.
Of plaintiffs who are covered by the agreement, “most of the attorneys or class members who object to particular aspects of the settlement do not attempt to explain why the settlement is ‘unfair’ or ‘inadequate’ to them,” the lawyers said.
Even if claims were brought to trial and BP was found to be grossly negligent, pursuing individual lawsuits instead of resolving them through a mass settlement would take years, Herman and Roy said.
“No one can deny that these could take decades to resolve conclusively through litigation,” they wrote.
Attorneys for multiple plaintiffs criticized the agreement, according to court filings.
“The class settlement is massive and extraordinarily complicated, yet still devoid of some important specifics,” said plaintiffs’ lawyer Brent Coon, who represents more than 13,000 plaintiffs. “The settlement itself comprises nearly 1,200 pages that are so convoluted and confusing that it is difficult even for lawyers to understand and interpret.”
The $7.8 billion agreement “is only a partial settlement which means that even a determination whether one is actually included or excluded from the settlement requires careful analysis and potentially random guess work regarding how one’s industry will be treated,” Coon said in an August filing.
The case is In re Oil Spill by the Oil Rig Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, MDL-2179, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans).