A $20bn (£12.4bn) fund to compensate victims of BP’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill has been hit with further damaging accusations – this time in a lawsuit alleging “negligence and fraud.”
Pinellas Marine Salvage has filed suit in Florida against the Gulf Coast Claims Facility and its federal administrator, Kenneth Feinberg, claiming it is not acting sufficiently in the interests of victims.
The local company claims that Mr Feinberg and the fund “circumvent many of the rights provided to victims of the BP oil spill under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990,” and employs a “delay, deny, defend” strategy against claimants.
Pinellas Marine Salvage is seeking economic, compensatory, and punitive damages.
The case comes after a judge looking after spill-related claims against BP ruled that the compensation fund could not be called “independent” of the company. Last month, Jim Hood, the attorney general of Misssissippi, also filed a court motion on behalf of the state, alleging that the fund is “intentionally underpaying” victims.
Mississippi residents suffered heavily when BP’s oil well exploded killing 11 men last April.
Mr Hood urged better supervision of the $20bn fund by Carl Barbier, the judge in charge of overseeing legal action against BP.
The attorney general claimed that people were signing “seemingly very low settlements” that bar them from later legal action, because emergency relief money was not been paid quickly enough.
“This scheme is another device for BP [through the fund] to entice claimants to sign a release and to improperly leverage those releases by intentionally underpaying interim claims,” he claimed. “BP is withholding interim claim payments to increase financial hardship on claimants.”
The purpose of the $20bn fund is to get money faster to people financially affected by the oil spill. It is also likely to reduce BP’s liabilities as any claims process will probably be cheaper for it than fighting claims in the courts.
The fund has to date received 468,000 claims and paid out around $2.7bn to some 170,000 claimants. Mr Feinberg was put in charge of the fund due to his expertise in managing the 9/11 terror attacks victims’ fund.
Separately, it emerged over the weekend that BP is suing the UK Government for almost £300m plus compensation, claiming it is owed tax paid “by mistake” a decade ago.
The oil giant is accusing HM Revenue and Customs of wrongly charging it stamp duty reserve tax when it took over a US rival, Atlantic Richfield, in 1999. The fund’s administrators could not be reached for comment.