BP: No claims to be paid in Florida for losses in May


BP officials have decided not to fully honor claims made by Florida businesses for losses prior to oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill reaching the state.

For business operators such as Jerry Stalnaker at Jetty East condominium in Destin, that means he’ll get an $11,813 check for the $96,545 he estimated he lost in May.

“That’s unacceptable,” Stalnaker said.

Stalnaker said he filed a claim using numbers from 2007-10 to indicate clearly lost commissions and beach service. His total estimated losses and his claim request was for $184,000.

He was told, for June — oil from the spill reached the state June 2 — he would receive $46,331 and that a similar amount would be paid in July.

When he inquired about the May claim, he said he was told “You’re not getting that because we’ve canceled May.”

BP officials say the company hasn’t changed its stance on which claims it will honor.

Mary Shafer-Malicki, the deputy incident commander for Florida, sent state Sen. Don Gaetz what she termed “a clarification” of company policy when he asked for it last week.

“BP will make claim payments based on the time an area has been impacted due to oiled beaches. This is consistent with the Oil Pollution Act (OPA), which is guiding BP’s claims process,” the statement said.

“In general, Louisiana had oiled beaches or marshes in May, while Alabama, Mississippi and Florida did not have beaches oiled until June,” it said.

“Looks like some backtracking to me,” said Gaetz, R-Niceville.

“I’d like to say I’m surprised, but I can’t,” he added.

“The economic consequences of the oil spill reached Northwest Florida long before the first tar ball. In my view that’s the fact that really matters,” said Gaetz, who is chairman of the Senate Select Committee on the Economy.

While Shafer-Malicki insisted there had been no change to BP’s claims policy, another high-ranking BP official said earlier that there was “no validity” to rumors that claims from Florida for losses in May would not be honored.

“Claims made in May are just as valid as they ever were,” said Howard Miller, a BP representative who was recently moved out of the state Emergency Operations Center. “Any properly documented claim that is made will be reimbursed.”

When asked if BP had changed its claims policy after he left, Miller deferred to BP officials working in the state.

To Chad Hamilton, chairman of the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce, BP’s latest revelation seems to indicate that everyone’s greatest fears about the reliability of the company are being realized.

“I think this stance by BP is another signal they’re retreating and that’s going to continue to happen. We all had trouble believing their stance of ‘we will make it right’ since day one, and this is your answer. It’s a clear signal,” he said.

Peter Bos, who heads Legendary Inc., said the Oil Pollution Act cited by BP specifically states that oil doesn’t have to be on the beach for a business to be considered damaged.

“Nor do I interpret BP’s statement to mean that,” he said.

“I’ve been in several meetings where that question has been asked, and we’ve been told that we are eligible to make claims for every month, including May,” he said. “That question has been asked and answered.”

There is some indication that BP’s policy will be changed when Ken Feinberg, who will dispense $25 billion of BP money for individual and business claims, starts his job in the next month or so.

Feinberg said through a public relations firm that he has authority to change BP’s claims policies. As far as the guidelines for the “time an area has been impacted,” Feinberg said he would amend that.

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

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