The judge overseeing the Deepwater Horizon oil spill litigation has set up a separate docket to handle a growing list of objections to the proposed $7.8 billion settlement with BP PLC.
In a June 4 order, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans established a docket in the Eastern District of Louisiana “for the sole purpose of filing objections” to the settlement. More than 35 objections arrived on the first day, most of which had been lodged initially with the court last month.
In a separate order on May 30, Barbier re-scheduled trial in the case, which was put on hold after the BP settlement was announced, for Jan. 14, 2013. The bench trial will be in two phases, the first addressing the conduct of the defendants soon after the April 20, 2010, explosion and subsequent oil spill. The second, to begin two weeks after the conclusion of the initial phase, would address efforts to contain the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico.
The BP settlement does not involve BP’s co-defendants, including Transocean Ltd. and Halliburton Energy Services Inc., but resolves claims by individuals and businesses that suffered economic harm or medical costs associated with the spill and who lived or worked in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and certain counties in Texas and Florida, from the date of the spill through April 16, 2012. The class members must have experienced losses such as property damage, lost charter payments, physical damage or lost subsistence fishing. The settlement includes $2.3 billion set aside for plaintiffs in the seafood business.
The settlement does not resolve claims brought by the states or the U.S. government.
Barbier preliminarily approved the BP deal on May 2, rejecting nearly a dozen objections by parties including Halliburton and the states of Mississippi and Florida. He gave potential class members until Aug. 31 to object and Oct. 1 to opt out, and scheduled a final settlement hearing for Nov. 8.
Since the preliminary approval, the vast majority of objectors have been charter boat operators hired by BP to assist in cleanup efforts soon after the spill as part of the “vessels of opportunity” — or VOO — program. Specifically, the charter boat operators object to a provision that would take a 33 percent offset from their total claim to account for payments made to them soon following the spill. The objections, filed in letter form, note that commercial fishermen and other seafood operators that participated in the program did not have to make similar offsets as part of the settlement.
“Many of my friends worked and endangered their health for those VOO payments just like the commercial vessel owners did and none of the commercial boats are being required to pay it back,” wrote Michael Maglini, executive director of the Charter Fisherman’s Association in Corpus Christi, Texas. “It appears to me that we did not have representation sitting at the table.”
The letters make reference to a May 2009 meeting held at Zeke’s Landing Marina in Orange Beach, Ala., during which BP officials assured more than 100 charter boat operators that payments under the program would not be counted against any future claims for losses to their business or medical costs.
Four new objections were filed on June 4: Three involving homeowners who were unable to sell or rent their beachfront properties in Alabama and Florida soon following the oil spill, and one involving a beach furniture manufacturer in Corpus Christi that is unable to recover $3 million in economic losses because it is located outside the geographical scope of the settlement.
In rescheduling the trial for next year, Barbier rejected requests from the Justice Department and Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange not to delay the case beyond this summer.
Contact Amanda Bronstad at email@example.com.