In a series of full-page advertisements in newspapers, BP plc has trumpeted alleged abuses by the Deepwater Horizon Court Supervised Settlement Program. Because this claims process is confidential, most examples appear without identifying details, which makes BP’s assertions difficult, if not impossible, to confirm.
One exception was an ad that started running in January. “Another law firm hits the jackpot,” it began, asserting that The Andry Law Firm in New Orleans was awarded more than $7 million even though losses at the plaintiffs firm weren’t related to the spill. On Jan. 31 the Andry firm asked U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans to hold BP in contempt for willfully violating the settlement agreement by releasing confidential claims information, and for falsely characterizing its claim. The filing accused the “BP attack machine” of trying to intimidate the courts and claimants.
BP spokesman Geoff Morrell called the motion “meritless” in a statement. The company did not violate the confidentiality order, he contends, because the law firm’s claim had previously been revealed in a public report by special master Louis Freeh and by the firm’s own filings.
Another ad was more thinly veiled, but not enough to avoid a backlash from its target. This ad cited an award of more than $8 million to the management company of an unnamed celebrity chef, whom it accused of concocting a fictional loss. “Would you pay this claim?” the ad copy read. “The Gulf Settlement Program did.” According to the ad, this company made more revenue in 2010 than in 2011, but incurred a paper loss because of trademark licensing fees it paid to the chef.
Chef Emeril Lagasse has asserted that the ad was directed at his company, Emeril’s Homebase. His attorney, Mark Stein of New Orleans’ Lowe, Stein, Hoffman, Allweiss & Hauver, said in a statement that the claim was filed “in accordance with the settlement agreement.” In December, Lagasse’s company filed sealed motions with the court; it’s not clear what relief it’s seeking.
Under the settlement, BP can contest awards of more than $25,000 through the claims administration process. As of Jan. 10, BP had challenged 3,903 economic and property damages awards, an appeal rate of 21 percent, according to the administrator’s most recent status report. Of 2,378 resolved appeals, BP has won 804 and withdrawn 267, and 1,307 were resolved in the claimant’s favor.