In recent months, BP has declared war on the people and businesses of the Southeast who have come forward to settle with the company over its unprecedented 2010 oil spill. BP set the rules and we have simply followed them.
Now the company, which has less than a stellar record in the veracity department (see suspension from doing business with the US government for a lack of corporate integrity and a conviction for lying to the Federal Government about the spill), claims the judge and neutral administrator overseeing settlement payments have hijacked the agreement, rewriting key terms to allow windfalls to undeserving businesses.
BP has trotted out examples of so-called “fictitious claims” made by businesses that in the company’s opinion are “too far” from the Gulf or “too far removed from tourism” to possibly have been impacted. Poppycock.
First, all should agree that BP’s spill certainly did not help the Gulf Coast economy. Tourism simply stopped for months, and if our region is anything, it is an economy driven by tourists’ dollars. The only businesses that may have benefited from the spill were disaster response companies. Everyone else was negatively impacted in one way or the other, to one degree or the other.
The very precise compensation formulas contained in the painstakingly negotiated 1,200 page agreement take proximity – to both the Gulf and tourism – into account when determining whether a business qualifies. In short, the farther from the coast and more remote connection to tourism, the harder it is to qualify and the lower the payment if you do.
Putting aside for a moment that almost every business was hurt by the economic trickle down of BP’s spill, the company seems to forget that a settlement is a compromise. For plaintiffs (claimants) the qualification bar is lowered. For the defendant (BP) it escapes possible punitive damages, does not have to admit wrongdoing, is only on the hook for losses experienced by businesses in 2010, and enjoys a release from all commercial liability as of May 2014.
As BP’s lead lawyer told the court last year when seeking judicial approval of this very same deal:
“Settlements are a yielding of the highest hopes in exchange for certainty and resolution. This settlement stands alone, however, in its substantive generosity to the class members and in its procedural fairness.”
That BP lawyer, along with hundreds of other well heeled and highly paid Manhattan attorneys, seemed to have changed their tune.
Late last Friday the trial judge had heard enough whining from BP. Carl Barbier, Federal District Court Judge for the Eastern District of Louisiana, issued a scathing order in which he took the company to task for in essence lying to the court and misleading honest business people of the Southeast:
“It is unclear what standing BP has to raise arguments against the fairness of the settlement. BP was a party to the settlement, helped to draft the Settlement Agreement, did not object to or appeal approval of the settlement, and in fact strenuously advocated for approval of the settlement.”
“BP accuses the Claims Administrator of “rewriting” and “systematically disregarding” the Settlement Agreement. To the contrary, when it talks about causation, if anyone is attempting to rewrite or disregard the unambiguous terms of the Settlement Agreement, it is counsel for BP.
Frankly, it is surprising that the same counsel who represented BP during the settlement negotiations, participated in drafting the final Settlement Agreement, and then strenuously advocated for approval of the settlement before this Court, now come to this Court and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and contradict everything they have previously done or said on this issue. Such actions are deeply disappointing.”