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BCA in the News

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Victims say they have no recourse as BP ends internal claims program

July 14, 2014, 9:46 am

Four years after the Deepwater Horizon explosion devastated the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 and gushing more than 200 million gallons of oil into the water, the company found responsible has shut down an internal claims program utilized by small business owners, injured rig workers and even casino companies affected by the disaster.

At one point, BP’s internal claims program, a separate entity from the controversial Deepwater Horizon Court Supervised Settlement Program, covered thousands of claimants who weren’t eligible to join the court-supervised settlement. It also covered those who chose to opt out because they felt the settlement didn’t offer enough, but didn’t want to go through the time-consuming, expensive process of filing an independent lawsuit.

In an emailed statement, BP announced that the program’s closure would affect very few people. “The fact is that 99 percent of the claims received by the BP Claims Program have been resolved,” said Geoff Morrell, senior vice president for the company’s U.S. communications and external affairs.

But lawyers representing Gulf Coast clients say that the company’s statement is simply not true — and that as many as 10,000 people could be affected by the decision.

Now those lawyers, as well as claimants and a congressman, are demanding the oil company pay out the funds they feel are due — even if it means reinstating the program.

“It’s quite shocking for me that a company that has admitted responsibility for an unlimited amount of money would cut off all negotiations with the thousands of victims, thousands of clients, who are not part of the class-action settlement,” said lawyer Stuart Smith, whose many clients come from Louisiana and were affected by the spill. “BP has a legal and moral obligation to expeditiously adjust and pay these claims.”

'I was going to die'

On April 20, 2010, rig worker Stephen Stone was asleep in the Deepwater Horizon cabin, below decks, when he was awakened by a sudden loud sound. Disoriented, he waited.

That was the first explosion. The second came just moments later — a force that, he said, “ripped through my body” and caused the ceiling to crumble and collapse onto him.

In an instant, his life changed forever.

“I was certain I was going to die,” Stone told the House Judiciary Committee during his testimony in Capitol Hill hearings just a month after the BP explosion killed co-workers of his and wreaked havoc on the waterway where he had been working.

After the explosion, people were screaming in the hall outside his cabin. He gathered a lifejacket, his wedding ring and his shoes. By the light of the burning derrick fire, he picked his way through the rubble and climbed into a lifeboat.

Stone thought he would burn alive. Instead, he was lowered into the Gulf of Mexico, where it took 28 hours after the explosion for his boat to reach land. Before he could even leave the boat, he had to give a written statement — and, shortly after, take a drug test.


As a rig worker, Stone did not qualify to be part of the court-supervised settlement, his lawyer, Brent Coon, said. Coon did submit an open letter to BP on Stone’s behalf, asking for reparations through the internal claims program, but BP did not offer him any money, he said.

Stone said the blowout wasn’t the first thing to go wrong on the BP project. Four times in 20 days leading up to the disaster his crew had had to stop pumping mud into the wellbore hole — the process by which oil wells are drilled — and instead were forced to pump sealant into the well’s foundation to stop the cracks that were beginning to form there.

Now, according to Coon, Stone suffers from a myriad of issues including post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, which require extensive treatment — yet he has never received any money through the internal claims process.

“He barely survived. He’s acutely traumatized and can’t focus,” said Coon, who has represented more than 10,000 clients in the aftermath of the BP disaster. “He needs regular psychiatric treatment for depression.”

Stone isn’t getting the steady care he needs — he seeks help only when he can afford it. He filed a lawsuit against BP three years ago but has not received any reparations. Many oil spill victims say they have not received money because of delays in the New Orleans federal district court proceeding tasked with consolidating lawsuits pending against BP to conduct uniform discovery.

And Transocean, the company that owned the rig Stone was working on, hasn’t been helpful either, he said.

“All I can do right now is wait for my day in court,” Stone said. “It’s very frustrating  — individuals are not represented in this country.”



Stone is not alone. Coon says he has other clients who weren’t eligible for a settlement payment, such as those in the casino industry, who have lost up to $10 million in revenue but have received nothing from BP’s internal claims process.

Others, such as hotel owner David Arnsby of Sarasota, Florida, qualified for the settlement but chose to opt out.

Arnsby lost 25 percent of his revenue, or about $600,000, from Country Inn and Suites the first year after the oil spill. By now, his losses have amounted to $7.5 million, Arnsby said, and he's gone into foreclosure because he defaulted on a loan.

In June 2011, he submitted a claim to the Gulf Coast Claims Facility for $6 million, his total losses at that point. He was only offered five cents on the dollar as reparation, however, for a grand total of about $250,000.

Arnsby refused the offer, at which point his claim was transferred to the Deepwater Horizon Settlement Program.

But Arnsby opted out, and instead took advantage of the internal claims program. Now, he feels the program was a trap.

“They didn’t do a thing. They ignored every single claim that my attorney sent,” Arnsby said. “They had no intentions of honoring that program.”

Moreover, Arnsby said, the company's website said he would receive "interim payments" before his final reparation was issued. But those, too, have yet to reach his mailbox, he said.

Facing financial ruin and the prospect of starting over on bad credit, Arnsby said BP has acted immorally.

“I think it is their mission to financially ruin people. It’s un-American,” he said. “They want to break you down, get you on your knees, get you to try to take four cents on the dollar.”



History of BP internal claims

BP initiated its internal claims process soon after the explosion to be in compliance with the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which assigns some liability to the responsible party after a spill in an effort to protect victims. The act was signed largely in response to another oil crisis, the 1989 Exxon Valdez incident in the Prince William Sound of Alaska.

More than 100,000 claims from individuals, businesses and state and local governments were filed through the internal process right away, and more would filter in. Considered the largest accidental deep-water petroleum spill in the history of the oil industry, the Deepwater Horizon disaster left oil gushing into the gulf for 87 days and affected industries like fishing, tourism and real estate across several states.

However, the internal claims program was around for only a few months before being farmed out to the independent Gulf Coast Claims Facility, which was announced in June 2010 after a meeting between BP executives and President Barack Obama, and began accepting claims that summer.

As part of an agreement negotiated with the White House, BP brought in attorney Kenneth Feinberg, who oversaw the 9/11 victims’ compensation fund, to run the claims program. The resulting shift in the claims process occurred in part because, in Coon’s words, BP was “doing a miserable job” of managing the large number of claims that were coming in.

“They didn’t have the resources or skill sets to handle it,” Coon said.

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Victims say they have no recourse as BP ends internal claims program

July 14, 2014, 9:46 am

Four years after the Deepwater Horizon explosion devastated the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 and gushing more than 200 million gallons of oil into the water, the company found responsible has shut down an internal claims program utilized by small business owners, injured rig workers and even casino companies affected by the disaster.

At one point, BP’s internal claims program, a separate entity from the controversial Deepwater Horizon Court Supervised Settlement Program, covered thousands of claimants who weren’t eligible to join the court-supervised settlement. It also covered those who chose to opt out because they felt the settlement didn’t offer enough, but didn’t want to go through the time-consuming, expensive process of filing an independent lawsuit.

In an emailed statement, BP announced that the program’s closure would affect very few people. “The fact is that 99 percent of the claims received by the BP Claims Program have been resolved,” said Geoff Morrell, senior vice president for the company’s U.S. communications and external affairs.

But lawyers representing Gulf Coast clients say that the company’s statement is simply not true — and that as many as 10,000 people could be affected by the decision.

Now those lawyers, as well as claimants and a congressman, are demanding the oil company pay out the funds they feel are due — even if it means reinstating the program.

“It’s quite shocking for me that a company that has admitted responsibility for an unlimited amount of money would cut off all negotiations with the thousands of victims, thousands of clients, who are not part of the class-action settlement,” said lawyer Stuart Smith, whose many clients come from Louisiana and were affected by the spill. “BP has a legal and moral obligation to expeditiously adjust and pay these claims.”

'I was going to die'

On April 20, 2010, rig worker Stephen Stone was asleep in the Deepwater Horizon cabin, below decks, when he was awakened by a sudden loud sound. Disoriented, he waited.

That was the first explosion. The second came just moments later — a force that, he said, “ripped through my body” and caused the ceiling to crumble and collapse onto him.

In an instant, his life changed forever.

“I was certain I was going to die,” Stone told the House Judiciary Committee during his testimony in Capitol Hill hearings just a month after the BP explosion killed co-workers of his and wreaked havoc on the waterway where he had been working.

After the explosion, people were screaming in the hall outside his cabin. He gathered a lifejacket, his wedding ring and his shoes. By the light of the burning derrick fire, he picked his way through the rubble and climbed into a lifeboat.

Stone thought he would burn alive. Instead, he was lowered into the Gulf of Mexico, where it took 28 hours after the explosion for his boat to reach land. Before he could even leave the boat, he had to give a written statement — and, shortly after, take a drug test.


As a rig worker, Stone did not qualify to be part of the court-supervised settlement, his lawyer, Brent Coon, said. Coon did submit an open letter to BP on Stone’s behalf, asking for reparations through the internal claims program, but BP did not offer him any money, he said.

Stone said the blowout wasn’t the first thing to go wrong on the BP project. Four times in 20 days leading up to the disaster his crew had had to stop pumping mud into the wellbore hole — the process by which oil wells are drilled — and instead were forced to pump sealant into the well’s foundation to stop the cracks that were beginning to form there.

Now, according to Coon, Stone suffers from a myriad of issues including post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, which require extensive treatment — yet he has never received any money through the internal claims process.

“He barely survived. He’s acutely traumatized and can’t focus,” said Coon, who has represented more than 10,000 clients in the aftermath of the BP disaster. “He needs regular psychiatric treatment for depression.”

Stone isn’t getting the steady care he needs — he seeks help only when he can afford it. He filed a lawsuit against BP three years ago but has not received any reparations. Many oil spill victims say they have not received money because of delays in the New Orleans federal district court proceeding tasked with consolidating lawsuits pending against BP to conduct uniform discovery.

And Transocean, the company that owned the rig Stone was working on, hasn’t been helpful either, he said.

“All I can do right now is wait for my day in court,” Stone said. “It’s very frustrating  — individuals are not represented in this country.”



Stone is not alone. Coon says he has other clients who weren’t eligible for a settlement payment, such as those in the casino industry, who have lost up to $10 million in revenue but have received nothing from BP’s internal claims process.

Others, such as hotel owner David Arnsby of Sarasota, Florida, qualified for the settlement but chose to opt out.

Arnsby lost 25 percent of his revenue, or about $600,000, from Country Inn and Suites the first year after the oil spill. By now, his losses have amounted to $7.5 million, Arnsby said, and he's gone into foreclosure because he defaulted on a loan.

In June 2011, he submitted a claim to the Gulf Coast Claims Facility for $6 million, his total losses at that point. He was only offered five cents on the dollar as reparation, however, for a grand total of about $250,000.

Arnsby refused the offer, at which point his claim was transferred to the Deepwater Horizon Settlement Program.

But Arnsby opted out, and instead took advantage of the internal claims program. Now, he feels the program was a trap.

“They didn’t do a thing. They ignored every single claim that my attorney sent,” Arnsby said. “They had no intentions of honoring that program.”

Moreover, Arnsby said, the company's website said he would receive "interim payments" before his final reparation was issued. But those, too, have yet to reach his mailbox, he said.

Facing financial ruin and the prospect of starting over on bad credit, Arnsby said BP has acted immorally.

“I think it is their mission to financially ruin people. It’s un-American,” he said. “They want to break you down, get you on your knees, get you to try to take four cents on the dollar.”



History of BP internal claims

BP initiated its internal claims process soon after the explosion to be in compliance with the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which assigns some liability to the responsible party after a spill in an effort to protect victims. The act was signed largely in response to another oil crisis, the 1989 Exxon Valdez incident in the Prince William Sound of Alaska.

More than 100,000 claims from individuals, businesses and state and local governments were filed through the internal process right away, and more would filter in. Considered the largest accidental deep-water petroleum spill in the history of the oil industry, the Deepwater Horizon disaster left oil gushing into the gulf for 87 days and affected industries like fishing, tourism and real estate across several states.

However, the internal claims program was around for only a few months before being farmed out to the independent Gulf Coast Claims Facility, which was announced in June 2010 after a meeting between BP executives and President Barack Obama, and began accepting claims that summer.

As part of an agreement negotiated with the White House, BP brought in attorney Kenneth Feinberg, who oversaw the 9/11 victims’ compensation fund, to run the claims program. The resulting shift in the claims process occurred in part because, in Coon’s words, BP was “doing a miserable job” of managing the large number of claims that were coming in.

“They didn’t have the resources or skill sets to handle it,” Coon said.


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