As a Nov. 1 deadline looms, some plaintiffs say they need more time to decide whether to participate in a proposed class action settlement in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon rig explosion and oil spill.
Three Florida plaintiffs are asking a federal judge to extend the deadline for opting out , saying they can’t evaluate the deal because a court-supervised facility for paying claims hasn’t made enough settlement offers.
Triton Diving Services, Dauphin Island Property Owners Association and Recreation Investments are asking for the opt-out deadline to be replaced with one that would allow plaintiffs to opt out at a much later stage of the spill-related litigation.
U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier recently extended the original opt-out deadline from Oct. 1 to Nov. 1, calling it a one-time extension. Plaintiffs who opt out can pursue their own lawsuits; those who don’t automatically become part of the settlement class.
Barbier has scheduled a hearing starting Nov. 8 in which he will assess the fairness of the proposed settlement between BP and thousands of Gulf Coast residents who suffered economic damages when BP’s Macondo well blew out.
“It is not an exaggeration to say that 99 percent of class members will have received absolutely no information regarding the amount of their settlement (or if they will even receive an offer) when the current opt-out deadline expires,” wrote James Garner, the lead attorney for Triton Diving Services.
He wrote that thousands of plaintiffs might be denied damages, after having relinquished their rights to pursue further litigation.
In a Sept. 24 status report, the court-supervised Deepwater Horizon Claims Center said it had reduced some documentation requirements to help speed up the review process. It reported it had paid only one individual economic loss claim out of the more than 15,000 claims submitted. At that time the Claims Center said it hoped to have offer letters for 30 percent of claimants by the beginning of October.
“The time is running out,” said Brent Coon, a Houston-based attorney with several thousand cases. Coon said he will wait as late as possible to decide whether many of his cases should opt out, but without offer letters, he is under pressure to leave open the possibility for litigation.
“They promised that we would see a lot of money coming out soon, but this plan has been in place for five months, with very few offers to show for it,” Coon said. “We have claimants who have not had a support check for nine months.”