NEW ORLEANS — BP’s multibillion dollar settlement with individuals and businesses affected by the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill doesn’t appear to be in jeopardy as more than 90 percent of those eligible are expected to accept the deal, the claims administrator said Monday.
Lafayette, La. attorney Patrick Juneau, who took over the processing of victims’ claims from Kenneth Feinberg in June, told the Houston Chronicle in an interview Monday that only about 100 to 200 claimants had opted out of the deal as of last week.
The figure is important because BP’s agreement with lawyers for plaintiffs allows the oil giant to withdraw from the deal if too many claimants opt out. BP has not said what that threshold is. Those who don’t opt by a Nov. 1 deadline are part of the class action settlement and cannot pursue separate lawsuits.
U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier of New Orleans, who tentatively approved the deal, has set a hearing to begin Nov. 8 in federal court in New Orleans to assess whether it is fair. Barbier then will decide whether to give it final approval.
Fishermen, other Gulf workers and the attorneys general in Mississippi and Louisiana have objected to elements of the proposed settlement. In particular, they are concerned about whether the total amount will be enough to cover all victims for damage they have experienced in the past and are expected to experience in the future.
BP has estimated it will pay $7.8 billion in the settlement, although the deal doesn’t place a cap on damages.
The proposed settlement established a claims center that replaced one BP put in place soon after the spill.
The earlier arrangement had drawn complaints about its independence and efficiency, and Juneau said he’s been working to put those issues to rest since he began running the new center.
“The feedback I am getting is tremendous,” he said. “What I envisioned as a dream is happening. This is a very positive mission. If someone is entitled to $100,000, we want to give them all of it. I am a citizen here and I am very comfortable with the process here and the settlement.”
He added, “My message here is, ‘We are not going to short one dime off that settlement agreement.’”
Feinberg, who ran the earlier claims facility, and his Washington law firm were receiving $1.25 million a month when Juneau replaced him.
Juneau said he and his firm are getting $240,000 a month for their work.
Juneau, 74, is an experienced mediator who has handled complex litigation in state and federal court.
BP has spent or committed tens of billions of dollars to clean up damage from the April 20, 2010, Deepwater Horizon disaster and compensate victims. It still faces the prospect of billions of dollars more in civil and criminal penalties and fines. It has been trying to work out a deal with the Justice Department to resolve those issues.
The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, owned by Transocean and leased by BP, exploded roughly 50 miles off Louisiana, killing 11 rig workers and causing more than 200 million gallons of oil to spew from a BP-owned well a mile beneath the sea.