Death by Documentation


Nobody ever said the BP claims process would be perfect, but now it’s moving well past incompetence into the realm of intentionally discouraging claims. One way to do this: require extensive documentation.

Look, BP knows that many of the people most hurt by its spill are the day laborers, deck hands and others who deal in a mostly cash economy. That’s the reality. So by requiring years of tax records, bank statements or other paperwork, the company can dodge liability. Thousands of people who are owed money simply cannot or will not jump through the BP hoops.

But, we hear the executives ask, how could we ever, ever have any other kind of system?

They think that because of the hubris they have brought to this process from Day One. If they would only look around, they’d discover that locals have already built an alternative system. The seafood industry, according to the Associated Press, has already organized a charitable corporation to raise money for those “who might fall through the cracks of the claims process.”

“We don’t even have an application process,” Kevin Voisin, the group’s head and an executive with the Motivatit Seafood company in Houma, La., told the AP. They just went to a database of seafood-related companies in the Gulf region, started calling managers and identifying families who lack the “documentation for an application or feared reprisal.”

What’s interesting is that Mr. Voisin points out that $500 can stabilize a family for a month, and that’s worth paying attention to. Nobody is suggesting that BP make undocumented major payments, we’re talking about fairly low amounts for a giant corporation making tens of billions of dollars in annual profits.

Every single dollar that charity and others provide saves BP money. Every worker forced into accepting charity because of documentation requirements saves BP money. These documents and other roadblocks are just another reminder of how far BP is from meeting the president’s goal of having BP pay for the damage it’s doing.

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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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