Just What BP Always Wanted: Confusing and Complicated Claims Process Causes Victims to Walk Away


We’ve seen plenty of flip-flops on BP damage claims: Real estate sales losses were not going to be covered, until they got their own separate fund; proximity to the beach was a key consideration, until it wasn’t; and payments from BP for cleanup work counted against your settlement, until it didn’t.

Now one of the flip-flops – having to re-apply with Ken Feinberg’s new system – is being blamed for victims not filing for what they’re rightfully owed.

A Houma Today story out of Lousiana outlines the issue: “Early in the transition process, residents were told they wouldn’t have to get a new claim number when Feinberg took over,” said Terrebonne Parish President Michel Claudet. “At one time it was such a big deal that you only had one claim number,” said Sharon Gauthe, executive director of Bayou Interfaith Shared Community Organizing, a nonprofit that has helped people file claims. “We drilled it in them that they didn’t have to go back (for a new claim number).”

And the newspaper reported some numbers: “On the highest end, Orleans Parish has received $131.45 million, while Terrebonne and Lafourche residents and businesses have received $67.11 million and $41.27 million respectively.” That led Claudet to observe: “We should be getting more considering the big fishing community we have.”

Really, this shows the success of the BP strategy on claims. By delaying instead of denying outright, and then requiring people to complete a complicated form and sign it like a tax return, the intent was to wear victims down while dodging political pressure. Now, by stressing that “lack of documentation” is the holdup, more and more victims will just walk away – many of them broken irreparably.

It’s a shame, but not at all unexpected. The next phase is to bring heavy pressure on victims to enter into a “final settlement” under financial duress. In effect, releasing BP from any future liability if its contamination of our environment and destruction of our economy proves to be worse than the blue-sky predictions we’re hearing from “official” sources. Admittedly, it’s a cynical view, but after 20 years of dragging Big Oil into court, it’s exactly what I expected.

Read the story out of Houma here: http://www.houmatoday.com/article/20101021/ARTICLES/101029820/1211?Title=Oil-spill-claim-deadline-is-approaching

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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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