Oil Spill Claims Settling For Hefty Amounts


The numbers are starting to be revealed. Settlements with families of workers killed in last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil-rig explosion are running at roughly $8 million to $9 million so far, WSJ reports.

The families of three workers have settled with rig-owner Transocean, two of them in the immediate weeks following the accident. Three more death claims are before Kenneth Feinberg, the attorney handling BP’s $20 billion fund.

All eyes are on Feinberg to see whether he offers up significantly more than what Transocean has settled for.

Already plaintiffs’ attorneys in the MDL before federal Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans are starting to grumble, saying that Feinberg shouldn’t be allowed to negotiate death claims in the first place. They want the death cases to stay in court.

All the claims appear to be headed for what attorneys are calling “the Deepwater premium,” a sharply inflated sum that the cases are being settled for by companies’ interested in avoiding another possible wave of bad publicity from the accident.

Plaintiffs can take their claims to court, to the companies themselves or to Feinberg. The fact that the companies are all pointing fingers at each other as to who’s to blame for the incident allows plaintiffs’ lawyers to play defendants off one another.

And the high-profile nature of the incident means plaintiffs attorneys are trying to boost values. One has sought $9 million for his client’s torn rotator cuff suffered on the rig. Dozens of people who were aboard the rig are filing a range of claims, including for injuries suffered when they jumped in the sea and for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Putting a price tag on human life is an incredibly difficult job. As Feinberg knows from handling payouts after the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks, victims’ families range in their views on how to compensate for the loss of a loved one.

One settlement with Transocean was paid to the family of Adam Weise, 24 years old, a floorhand on the rig, shortly after the incident. His mother, Arleen Weise, of Yorktown, Texas, wouldn’t disclose the payout under the terms of the settlement, but said she wasn’t bitter the families of other victims might receive larger sums because they were settling later.

“He was my son, not a husband or a father of children,” Ms. Weise said. “If others got more, I’m happy for them. He’s worth more than anyone could ever give me.” She added: “I saw no reason to sue Transocean. Nobody wanted that to happen, and I know they were as sorry as we were that it happened.”

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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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