Fishermen continue to site abuses of payment system, especially against fishermen who have hired attorneys
Citing on-going hi-jinks in payments to fisherman distressed by the DEEPWATER HORIZON catastrophe, George Barisich, President of the United Commercial Fisherman’s Association, is petitioning the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana, to appoint a “Special Master” to provide oversight and guidance in the claims processing program initiated by BP.
Such provisions are allowed under federal law, especially in pre- and post-trial matters involving payments to claimants, said attorneys representing Mr. Barisich.
Mr. Barisich alleges that while BP has begun distributing monies to commercial fishermen, the payment processes used by BP appear to be inconsistent and in some cases prejudicial. Mr. Barisich states that in some instances BP has refused to issue checks to fishermen who had already retained attorneys. Other fishermen report barriers to receiving the payments, such as BP requiring:
- Boat registration information, even though many of the fishermen whose livelihoods have been destroyed do not own their own boats;
- Tax records for multiple years; and
- Drivers’ licenses showing residence in Plaquemines or St. Bernard parishes, even though many of the affected fishermen commute into those parishes to work each day because of continuing displacement from Katrina.
Even when a fisherman produces the documentation required by BP, he often experiences delays in getting payments for the damages, states Mr. Barisich.
Stuart H. Smith, of Smith Stag, LLC, said that on May 12, attorneys representing Mr. Barisich successfully entered into a court-ordered Joint Stipulation with BP guaranteeing that payments to fishermen would in no way act as a release or waiver of any part of the fisherman’s claims against BP arising out of the Oil Spill.
“We’ve had to take BP to court at every turn, demanding that they respect the legal rights and human risks experienced by fishermen in this catastrophe. It makes sense that as complaints continue to surface, the court would order appointment of a special master to oversee claims processing, to create efficiency and cohesion, and promote justice by establishing ground rules to ensure that all qualifying claimants are swiftly compensated for a portion of their damages on a uniform basis and without the taking of improper advantage by BP,” said Mr. Smith.
Mr. Barisich’s counsel has successfully gained consent agreements with BP through a series of injunctions filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. So far, it is the only group with legal victories obtaining emergency relief against BP since the DEEPWATER HORIZON rig exploded on April 20.
“We’re concerned that these actions by BP punish fishermen and discourage them from seeking legal advice or representation,” said Attorney James Garner. “There is simply too much danger – some of this risk already realized via haphazard and unfair means – in the claims process being administered without judicial oversight and a Special Master. A Special Master is the only way to ensure that the claims scheme initiated by BP can relieve some of the harm without compromising the rights of fishermen.
“In the short period of time since the oil spill began and litigation commenced, BP has instituted a four-point legal strategy to seek stays of individual pending lawsuits; oppose multi-district litigation proceedings; move to have the cases heard in Houston and attempt to resolve as many claims as possible through its own independent claims scheme,” added Attorney Glad Jones.
“While the law encourages settlements and while it is positive that BP is seeking to compensate those facing economic ruination from damages, the Court has a longstanding duty to protect the general interests of putative class members and the specific interests of fishermen,” said Mr. Smith.
Mr. Smith said the team of independent lawyers will aggressively monitor all of BP’s activities and take legal action as necessary.