Shortchanging Victims


From very early on in the dysfunctional BP claims process, we heard disturbing reports of victims getting paid, but only getting paid a fraction of their total damages. Initially, BP was paying fishing boat captains $5,000 for their losses – an amount they could make in a few days during peak season. Those ridiculous payments became the ugly symbol of the BP claims process…”too little, too late” leaps to mind. We wait to see if the new “independent” claims process, equipped with Kenneth Feinberg and $20 billion, is the same as the old, inept BP-run process or not. We hope it is not and the obviously well-intentioned Mr.  Feinberg and his team can bring fundamental fairness to the victims.

A story in the St. Petersburg Times shows that nothing has really changed since BP setup the $20 billion victims’ fund: “‘They have not denied our claim. They have just not paid it all,’ said Tommy Holmes, owner of Outcast Marine, a fishing-tackle supply company in Pensacola. Holmes lost $73,000 in May and expects losses in June to exceed $100,000. BP has paid him $26,000 for May and refuses to pay the rest, he says. Holmes plans to sue them.” Here’s the article:

Keep your ears open, because we’re going to be hearing a lot more of this kind of thing…inadequate partial payments that will slowly force businesses and families across the Gulf Coast into bankruptcy unless there is rapid change. They’re putting a band-aid on it when we need a tourniquet. It sounds pretty good for BP and the fund to say we’ve cut 6,000 checks in Florida, but when you look closely at the amounts on those checks, we see how the victims are getting jerked around over and over again.

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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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