The memories are still fresh of the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil-drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010. The disaster caused 11 deaths and the spilling of an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil.
It also resulted in one of the largest class-action mass torte settlements in U.S. history.
The terms of the settlement stipulate that BP will pay for unresolved economic, property, and medical damages of individuals and businesses in areas affected by the oil spill. The company estimates the cost of the settlement will reach about $7.8 billion.
So who’s cashing in on BP claims?
“It’s hard to find an industry that was not impacted in some way,” says David Pittman, P.A., and President of Pittman Law Firm, P.L., in Fort Myers, Fla ., with offices located in Bonita Springs, Naples and Fort Myers, Fla. Pittman Law Firm, P.L. is working in association with a group of lawyers, some of whom are on the steering committee for the BP consolidated Multi-District Litigation in New Orleans, LA.
With the spill being one of the largest ecological disasters in history, media coverage naturally focused on devastation to environment, which led to additional devastation of the economy.
“Tourism as a whole dropped, and almost all other industries in the affected areas are tied to tourism,” says Pittman.
In real estate, the disaster wiped out a huge segment of buyers who would normally come in during season to look for a vacation home, purchase an investment property or buy a home for retirement.
In the professional sector, those in the medical and dental fields lost business from seasonal patients from the north who normally get their primary care in Florida and other affected states.
And, most obviously, fishers, shrimpers and those in the service industry took a direct blow from the spill. Hair stylists to servers and landscapers struggled as the flood of oil caused a drought in their customer base.
How the settlement came to be
Immediately following the explosion, there was a concentrated effort by both BP and government agencies to address emergency relief for these affected victims.
One of the temporary solutions was to establish the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, or GCCF, to provide sustenance to individuals, workers and business owners in affected industries.
During that process, class-action lawsuits were being filed in numerous states. These were consolidated into one case. A steering committee representing more than 100,000 plaintiffs reached a settlement with BP in April 2012 that laid out the claims businesses and individuals are entitled to for economic damages and loss of property.
“The settlement claims are different from sustenance payout,” says Pittman. “You can have both.”
How the claims process works
Pittman says there’s a perception that making a claim involves filing a few papers and getting a check.
“It’s not an easy process, but we make it easy for people,” he says. It takes a lot to make sure a claimant receives fair compensation and the maximum value for losses sustained. Being thoroughly trained in the intricacies of the complex calculation process and legal options available to negotiate any decision can make a huge difference for the business owner. ”
The first and primary factor in the claims process is determining eligibility. The settlement defines which areas contain eligible claimants, and individuals and businesses in certain zones may be entitled to more payout based on increased impact of the spill.
The settlement also lays out a financial requirement to compute economic loss. The good news for claimants is that the majority of businesses don’t have to prove they suffered directly as a result of the BP oil spill.
“It would cost the average business owner a fortune to hire an expert to link the connection of economic damages to the oil spill,” says Pittman. “The cost would exceed the claim amount.”
Claimants should work directly with an attorney to receive a claim. As an Agreed Upon Settlement, a claimant wouldn’t have to deal with public records, court appearances, depositions or lawsuits. The process is discreet and confidential.
The well won’t run dry for disaster victims seeking retribution.
The settlement fund is unlimited, and BP hasn’t put a cap on what it will pay claimants. So claimants don’t have to worry that their payout will deplete money in the pot for other victims.
“No one other deserving claim will be watered down,” says Pittman. “You won’t be taking money from someone else otherwise entitled to the funds.”
The Christian Science Monitor reports one exception, though: A $2.3 billion cap is in place for seafood claimants, including commercial fishermen and boat captains.
But all claimants are up against a deadline. The final day to file claims under the settlement is April 22, 2014. Though this is a reasonable amount of time, it’s certainly not extensive given the due process involved.
“Procrastination isn’t good,” says Pittman. “It is natural for people to forget details related to financial information, especially as time passes.”
Pittman says it’s conceivable that the deadline could be extended beyond the end of 2014 if the claims process doesn’t live up to certain parameters. For example, if hiccups arise with the administration of claims, the deadline could be extended.
But for those considering filing a claim, err on side of caution, and ignore the prospect of an extended deadline. Glitches that would warrant an extension aren’t anticipated.
“BP is approaching the settlement better than other companies in the past have with their mass class-action suits with more responsibility and concern for the victims,” says Pittman.
Pittman adds that an estimated 75 percent of those who qualify for compensation under the settlement will not file. With the window to file only getting more narrow, prospective claimants on the fence should take action.