Gaffe requires some oil spill claimants to sign release twice


MOBILE, Ala. – Some people who accepted a “quick pay” settlement from the oil spill claims operation have had to sign more than one lawsuit waiver because of a formatting problem, according to claims officials.

Such waivers, which make claimants promise not to sue or seek further compensation from the claims operation or any company involved in the oil spill, have come under fire from trial lawyers and some state officials along the Gulf Coast.

Amy Weiss, a spokeswoman for the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, said that in a few instances, a downloading error deleted a line in the release form. She did not say how many claimants were affected.

“It was purely a typo resulting in the deletion of the sentence, not a substantive change,” she said in an e-mail.

A quick payment of $5,000 for individuals or $25,000 for a business is available to any of the 168,000 claimants who were approved for an emergency claim under Feinberg’s process.

No further proof is required for the quick-pay settlement, but anyone taking the payment must sign a waiver releasing the claims operation and any company involved in the spill from future damages.

About 43,000 individuals and 11,000 businesses had applied for the quick pay option as of Wednesday, according to the claims facility.

About 28,000 individuals and 7,000 businesses had been approved and paid a total of $214 million, according to the claims data.

Claims czar Ken Feinberg continues to offer two additional claims options, both requiring financial documentation of damages. One, a lump-sum final settlement, also requires signing a waiver saying they will not receive future compensation.

Those who don’t want to sign such a waiver can apply for quarterly interim payments.

Trial lawyers have argued that people should only have to give up the right to sue BP for compensatory damages, keeping open the option to go after BP in court for punitive awards. And, the lawyers say, people who accept final payments from the claims facility should be allowed to sue other responsible parties for both compensatory and punitive damages.

Feinberg said his operation will reward people with more money faster than the legal system. In addition, it’s a voluntary program, he has said. If people don’t like the settlement offer, they can turn it down and file a claim with the Coast Guard or sue.

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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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