Our fight for a fair BP settlement will go on

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It may well be a accident of timing — all of us are racing to complete unfinished tasks before the Christmas holiday — but a major piece of news regarding BP and the ongoing quest for justice in the news was released late on Friday, heading right into the 12 days of Christmas when folks are spending time with their loved ones, and not watching the news.

But it’s a story that BP surely doesn’t want you to dwell much upon, as it races ahead in its mad dash to put the horrors of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon catastrophe behind it: A federal judge has turned aside multiple objections and approved the $7.8 billion settlement between BP and thousands of Gulf residents and business owners:

A federal judge signed off on BP’s settlement with businesses and people hard hit by the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans issued a 125-page ruling Friday night on a class-action suit. He gave the settlement preliminary approval in May and overruled questions and criticism of the agreement in his Friday ruling.

“None of the objections, whether filed on the objections docket or elsewhere, have shown the settlement to be anything other than fair, reasonable, and adequate,” the ruling said. “The low numbers of objections and opt-outs are evidence of the settlement’s fairness.”

BP has estimated a settlement of about $7.8 billion paid from a $20 billion trust. Thousands of businesses and individuals made claims in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, some coastal counties in eastern Texas and western Florida and adjacent Gulf waters and bays.

With the exception of seafood claims, there is no cap on the amount BP will pay to those who agree to the settlement.

No doubt, this is a significant development, but it is not the end of the story…far from it. In fact, as a new year dawns, we are preparing to appeal Judge Barbier’s ruling on behalf of the numerous Gulf Coast citizens, fishermen and boat captains and other clients that we represent in this important matter.

We continue to maintain that there are significant problems with the deal that Judge Barbier signed off on, and we are hardly alone. Many other key players — including the U.S. Justice Department and the state of Louisiana, among others — filed objections with the court that portrayed the settlement as a rush to judgement, before the full extent of BP’s environmental recklessness and harm is known.

As we noted earlier, Hurricane Isaac stirred up a lot of the estimated 1 million barrels of oil that were not fully cleaned up in the Gulf — too much of which washed ashore on our beaches this past summer. This is on top of mounting scientific evidence that the damage from the 2010 oil spill — to fragile wetlands, to struggling oyster beds and depleted fisheries — is even worse than initially feared. In the case of the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster off Alaska, several key marine fisheries did not collapse until a few years after the incident, and we continue to be alarmed at the prospect that this will also happen in the Gulf.

All this points to a deal this is too premature, and almost certainly is too beneficial toward BP.  And in court last month, I argued against the arbitrary geography of the damage awards — in which businesses in the same community are currently entitled to very unequal amounts. We will continue to fight all of these issues on appeal.

It’s important to note that the judge’s ruling only applies to the economic terms and not to the proposed medical settlement. You’ll recall that serious objections have been lodged — by the likes of Dr. Michael Robichaux, a doctor who has treated a number of chronically ill clean-up workers and others exposed to BP’s spilled oil — over the fairness of the terms of that deal to those suffering from chronic illness. So it is our continued hope that Judge Barbier will send this back for more work.

All of us would like to put the Deepwater Horizon disaster behind us. But that’s not possible, not when the Gulf is still reeling from the environmental aftershocks some 32 months later. When it comes to assessing the damages for this manmade disaster, fairness is ultimately much, much important than speed.

And so our fight for fairness goes on.

To read more about Judge Barbier’s ruling on the BP settlement, please go to: http://www.cnn.com/2012/12/22/us/bp-spill-settlement/index.html

To check out our Sept. 12 post detailing our objections to the $7.8 billion deal, please read: http://www.stuarthsmith.com/we-object-why-bps-8-7-billion-deal-is-a-failed-settlement/

To read the Dec. 17 blog post about Dr. Michael Robichaux and medical objections to the settlement, check out: http://www.stuarthsmith.com/gulf-doctor-bp-settlement-wont-help-my-sick-patients/

© Smith Stag, LLC 2012 – All Rights Reserved

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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