Described by Professor Robert H. Klonoff of Lewis & Clark Law School as "one of the fairest and most impressive settlements I have seen in more than 20 years of practicing, teaching and writing in the field of class actions," the Economic and Property Damages Class Action Settlement against British Petroleum arising out of the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was presented for preliminary approval on April 18, 2012, to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. At today's Fairness Hearing, Judge Carl Barbier considered final approval and is expected to issue his ruling in the coming days.
In May 2012, the court preliminarily approved the Court-Supervised Settlement Program, which began operating in June 2012. In five months, the Settlement Program has received more than 75,000 claims and processed and made offers totaling more than $970 million. More than 95 percent of the claimants that have responded to the offers have accepted those offers.
After the hearing concluded, Motley Rice co-founder Joe Rice, one of the lead negotiators of the settlement, stated in response to the hearing, "This settlement will provide greater compensation to the claimants than they would be able to establish using the Federal Rules of Evidence, the application of the Oil Pollution Act, U.S. maritime law or other alternative legal avenues. In addition, claimants get paid now under the settlement."
The court was told by counsel for BP that more than one million, perhaps two million, citizens of the Gulf Coast area are members of the class. Class counsel believes this may underestimate the class membership.
The Gulf of Mexico is at the heart of the economy for Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, as well as an integral part of Florida's west coast and Texas' east coast. Every business in these states should evaluate their potential claims under the terms of this settlement.
"The court, upon preliminary approval of the settlement, has put into place an out-of-court settlement that has very straightforward, transparent standards for recovery," said Rice. "Whether you are a farmer in Monroe, Louisiana, an auto dealer in Tampa, Florida, or a residential construction company in Jackson, Mississippi, you should evaluate your potential claim."
"When the business interests in the Gulf Coast states take the opportunity to review their business economic results from 2010, we may see thousands of additional claims that are due millions of dollars in compensation under the settlement," he added. "All we can do is make a settlement process available to the victims. It is up to the business interests in the Gulf to come forward and file their claims."
While BP has estimated that the cost of the settlement will exceed $7.8 billion, there is no dollar cap on payments, and Rice says some believe it will exceed $10 billion.
The entire Plaintiffs' Steering Committee is available to answer questions and provide guidance to all class members. Joe Rice can be reached at [email protected].