BP outrageously breaks another promise to the people of the Gulf


Over the last few months, I’ve watched in amazement as BP has spent untold millions of dollars on lawyers, on expensive full-page advertisements in America’s leading newspapers, and on other media all with one goal in mind: Overturning a multi-billion-dollar oil spill settlement crafted and vociferously advocated for by its own attorneys!

We’ve discussed this before: BP insists that crafty Louisiana lawyers are taking advantage of the settlement — which, it had once been estimated, would cost the oil giant about $7.8 billion — and abusing its terms to submit claims of behalf of businesses and individuals that suffered little or no impact from the 2010 spill. I see it completely differently — that BP and its high-priced lawyers simply underestimated how much economic carnage was actually caused by its reckless behavior and the ensuing April 2010 explosion at the Deepwater Horizon rig, which killed 11 workers before spewing 5 million barrels of crude oil over the course of several months.

The problem for BP lawyers has been an obvious one: To overturn the settlement, they have to convince a judge or a panel of judges, somewhere, that their arguments that were so convincing in 2012 were in fact faulty and now need to be tossed aside. Not surprisingly, every judge or judicial panel that’s listened to BP’s new logic has turned this down.

But there’s another place that some of the thousands of business owners affected by the spill have turned for relief: An internal claims program operated by BP. Damage-seekers had several motivations for going this route — some weren’t covered by the language of the settlement (example: BP gas-station owners who aren’t in the spill zone but whose businesses were boycotted by angry consumers) and some thought they’d just get paid faster this way. But abruptly — maybe out of spite, maybe because they’re running low on cash…who knows? — BP without warning cut off those payments:

While BP continues its public battle against business payments under its massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill settlement, the company has quietly stopped payments through an internal program set up to compensate claimants who opted out of the deal.

As first reported Monday (June 23) by WWL, the British oil giant abruptly shuttered the BP Claims Program last week, though it’s still unclear how many claimants are impacted by the move.

In addition:

WWL reports the company paid about $12 million to claimants as of April. That’s a mere fraction of the $3.8 billion distributed so far under the oil spill settlement.

Morrell said the majority of oil spill claims have filed through the oil spill settlement and “very few claims were being submitted through the BP Claims Programs when this decision was made.”

Morrell is the spokesman for BP, and as we’ve seen time and time again, there’s a huge dose of fiction in the story that he’s trying to spin. In fact, business owners and other Gulf citizens who were hurt once already by BP’s negligent actions are getting injured all over again. WWL, the local TV station which broke this story, had no problem finding folks getting a raw deal. Consider the story of Dave Arnsby, whose motel in Sarasota went under because of the loss of business in 2010 die to the BP spill:

Arnsby remembers BP promising to process all legitimate claims in 90 days. He and his attorneys sent in documents showing his losses of revenue and investment, but BP wouldn’t offer him more than the revenue compensation.

When BP announced the end of the BP Claims Program last week on the same website that had promised a quick payment, Arnsby was angry.

“Every single article said, ‘We will pay all legitimate claims,’” he said, referring to an onslaught of BP advertising and press statements in major newspapers. “And I am a perfectly legitimate claim, fully documented, in an industry that was the most impacted in the state of Florida. They have everything they need to settle my claim, and it’s a point-blank refusal.”

It’s also outrageous. BP was promising claimants the moon and the stars when the hot media lights were on and when the atrocity of the Deepwater Horizon spill was still high in the public’s consciousness. Now, more than four years later, and with the realization that damages are much greater than it predicted, BP is trying to weasel out of its commitments to the people of the Gulf Coast.

The company was hoping that no one is paying attention. But we are paying attention. And we will use any legal means necessary to recover our losses, and to make this hugely profitable company understand that the cost of doing bad is much greater than this cost of doing good. This is a petty, small-minded manuever by BP — and it is sure to backfire. 

To read the latest on BP shutting down its internal payments program, please read: http://www.nola.com/business/index.ssf/2014/06/bp_ends_internal_oil_spill_cla.html

Check out the WWL report that first broke this story, at: http://www.wwltv.com/news/local/BP-shuts-down-internal-oil-spill-claims-program-264317381.html

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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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