BP spill claimants could get another chance to join settlement

BP and some plaintiffs’ lawyers are  asking a federal  judge to give claimants who asked to leave a proposed class action settlement involving the 2010 Gulf oil spill another  chance to participate.

The British oil company and the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee, a court-appointed group of attorneys representing private claimants, asked U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier  to give claimants until Dec. 15 to  revoke  requests to opt out of the proposed  settlement, according to a Wednesday morning filing.

Both sides say the request is in response to individual plaintiff attorneys who want to revoke some of the opt-out requests they  filed on behalf of clients.

The deadline was Nov. 1 for opting out of the settlement and Nov. 5 for revoking opt-out requests. The motion Wednesday doesn’t ask Barbier to re-open the opt-out period, but to extend the deadline for opting back in.

The settlement, proposed earlier this year by BP and the Steering Committee, would resolve  claims against BP by 100,000-plus Gulf Coast residents who suffered economic or health damages when BP’s Macondo well blew out,  spilling millions of  barrels of oil that decimated coastal fishing, tourism and other businesses.

The deal requires Barbier’s approval, and he signaled at a hearing last Thursday  that he’s inclined to approve it.

Claimants who did not  opt out by Nov. 1 are bound by the terms of the settlement, which BP has estimated will total $7.8 billion, although the proposed deal sets no cap on damages.

Court-supervised claims administrator Patrick Juneau reported at the hearing last week  that 25,000 prospective claimants had filed to opt out.

Juneau estimated that about half of these opt-out requests met the court requirements, which include a valid claimant signature and an address.

Plaintiff Steering Committee attorney Joe Rice estimated this week that only about 6,000 opt-outs currently meet the court’s requirements.

At the hearing, Barbier noted that  some attorneys had tried to opt out a large number of potential claimants.

“I am greatly concerned about some counsel who have attempted to or encouraged their clients to participate in en masse opt outs,” Barbier said. “I think a lawyer owes a fiduciary duty or an ethical duty to analyze each client’s claim and inform the client to let them make a claim. To just send form letters to thousands of clients and say, ‘we don’t like this settlement’, without further analysis, is not serving your client well, at the least. Those who do opt out, you have to consider that when you opt out of the settlement, what are you opting in to?  You are giving up payment now for years of litigation and delays.”