MOBILE, Ala. – Attorneys general from Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and Louisiana on Thursday warned Gulf Coast residents to “proceed with caution” before signing away their legal rights in order to accept money for oil spill claims.
“Alabamians should beware of signing away their legal rights to BP,” Chris Bence, a spokesman for Alabama Attorney General Troy King told the Press-Register. “The picture is cloudy and unclear, and when you sign a waiver, that is forever.”
Bence said the waiver required for final payments under Ken Feinberg’s Gulf Coast Claims Facility blocks “any future remedy to any recurring or new problems that could come along.”
Feinberg could not be reached for comment Thursday night, but he, too, told the Press-Register earlier this week that people should carefully examine their options in the final claims process and choose what is best for them. He said he would offer free legal advice to anyone who wants it.
Feinberg’s claims process now offers three options:
- Any of the 168,000 claimants approved for earlier emergency payments can get a quick, no-proof-necessary final check of $5,000 for individuals or $25,000 for businesses. In exchange, they must sign a liability waiver covering any company involved in the spill and agree not to come back to the claims process for more money.
- Anyone can apply for a one-time payment covering all present and future economic damage caused by the spill. Feinberg’s operation will review financial documentation and consult with experts about the expected future impacts, then make a settlement offer that factors earlier payments from either Feinberg or BP PLC. If the claimant accepts the check, a liability waiver will be required.
- People who don’t want to sign a waiver can apply for quarterly, interim payments through the end of the claims process in August 2013. They must supply financial documentation to demonstrate continuing losses.
The Gulf Coast attorneys general said in a joint, written statement that they have told Feinberg of their concern about his required release. For example, if claimants accept a final settlement and sign a waiver, they will have nowhere to turn should a hurricane cause more oil to spill on shore next year, the officials said.
“The GCCF final payment system requires the claimant to predict all possible damages, current and future, that the claimant will ever incur from the spill,” they said in a written statement.
Feinberg’s operation has paid out more than $2.5 billion in its emergency phase, which did not require lawsuit waivers. Feinberg had said all emergency claims would be approved or denied by Wednesday, but there were still several thousand waiting to be processed as of Wednesday night, the latest information reflected on the operation’s website by Thursday evening.