Federal judge denies calls for more evidence on BP settlement hearing

A New Orleans federal magistrate has rejected calls for additional evidence by some individual plaintiffs in a proposed settlement between BP and Gulf Coast residents hurt by the 2010 oil spill, according to court documents.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Sally Shusan ruled that several plaintiffs will not be allowed to collect additional evidence  for a Nov. 8 hearing during which U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier will determine whether the proposed class-action settlement is fair.

The settlement would resolve economic and medical claims for many of the individuals throughout the five Gulf states affected when BP’s Macondo well blew out in April 2010, killing 11 workers on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and spilling millions of barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico.

BP and a steering committee representing plaintiffs agreed to the deal, but it isn’t final until it is certified by Barbier, who is overseeing the tangle of litigation arising from the spill.

Shusan listed various reasons for rejecting the requests for further evidence gathering, a process called discovery, noting that a deadline for discovery requests was Sept. 7. Attorneys for individual plaintiffs had  argued that they didn’t have enough time to gather  evidence to counter BP’s arguments that the settlement is fair.

“In evaluating settlements for approval, the fundamental question is whether the Court has sufficient facts before it to approve or disapprove the settlement,” Shusan wrote in the court order, which denied the requests of several plaintiffs for more discovery.

Various parties have objected to aspects of the settlement, including  Louisiana’s attorney general, who expressed concern that the settlement with plaintiffs in the seafood industry was inadequate for the damages they suffered.

Settlements typically reflect a discount on the amounts plaintiffs might receive in court in exchange for forgoing the risk and expense of trial, according to Loyola University torts law professor Blaine LeCesne, who is following the case.

In the order, Shusan reminded plaintiffs that the purpose of the Nov. 8 hearing is to evaluate whether the settlement, which BP has estimated will total $7.8 billion, treats claimants fairly, but not necessarily to estimate whether plaintiffs could get a higher damage award in trial.