Gulf spill claims administrator says BP complaint lacks merit

The claims administrator overseeing the multibillion dollar settlement between BP and victims of the 2010 Gulf of  Mexico oil spill says BP’s complaint that he is violating the terms of the deal should be thrown out because he has immunity from being sued and he is simply following court directives.

Patrick Juneau’s lawyer filed responses Monday to BP’s complaint and motion for preliminary injunction. A hearing is set for Friday in federal court in New Orleans before U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier.

BP is seeking to block payment of what the company alleges are fictitious business economic loss claims by plaintiffs who weren’t harmed by the spill.

But Juneau, a Lafayette, La. lawyer, says in the response filed by his attorney that the court has ordered him to administer the settlement agreement “in the precise manner of which BP now complains” and he couldn’t alter the way he carries out his duties even if wanted to.

Read more: Three years after Gulf spill, BP faces big week in court

He also says that he is immune from suit in his official capacity as claims administrator.

“BP has not set forth facts that give rise to a viable claim against the defendants, as the crux of the complaint is that the defentants are administering the settlement agreement in a manner consistent with the court’s orders,” Juneau’s reponse says.

Lawyers for the steering committee that represents plaintiffs in the settlement say BP agreed to the rules for how injuries would be determined and compensation would be calculated.

In court papers filed late Monday, the Plaintiffs Steering Committee said BP’s injunction request doesn’t make any sense.

“To enjoin the claims administrator as proposed by BP would itself violate the express terms of the settlement and trust agreements that BP negotiated, agreed to, and supported, and would in effect be asking the court to enjoin the claims administrator from enforcing the court’s own prior instructions,” lawyers for the PSC wrote.

BP owned the undersea well that blew out 50 miles off the Louisiana coast on April 20, 2010, causing an explosion on the Transocean-owned Deepwater Horizon rig that killed 11 men. It took nearly three months to cap the runaway well that spilled millions of gallons of oil into the sea.

BP was trying to secure as much certainty as it could buy when it agreed to a landmark settlement with individuals and businesses suffering economic and health damages from the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. It estimated then that it would pay out $7.8 billion, though the settlement carries no cap.

But now BP is worried that figure could balloon by perhaps billions of dollars if it fails to persuade Barbier to block Juneau from making business economic loss payments to claimants in the agriculture, construction, professional services, real estate, manufacturing, wholesale trade and retail trade industries. The company alleges that claims for nonexistent losses are most prevalent among those industries.

BP also has filed a breach of contract action against Juneau.

If BP loses at the hearing, it could ask a federal appeals court to take up the issue.


Read ongoing FuelFix coverage of the legal trials surrounding the Gulf of Mexico oil spill: