Williams & Connolly partner Kevin Downey
Williams & Connolly partner Kevin Downey (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi / LEG)

Lawyers in the $9.2 billion Deepwater Horizon settlement are accusing BP PLC of accessing confidential information about individuals and businesses that have filed claims for oil spill damages.

The dispute is the latest centered on the class action settlement for economic damages associated with the 2010 spill. BP, in court filings and in the press, has asserted that the settlement has been misinterpreted so that businesses with no spill damages have been paid under the claims process.

BP has used confidential claimant information to publish details of specific claims in advertisements in major newspapers and to assist former FBI director Louis Freeh, who as special master, has been investigating potential fraud in the claims process, wrote co-lead class counsel Stephen Herman, a partner at Herman, Herman & Katz in New Orleans, and James P. Roy, managing member of Domengeaux Wright Roy & Edwards of Lafayette, La., in a Feb. 24 motion.

Under a provision of the settlement, they wrote, neither BP nor class counsel are permitted to access confidential information about claims being processed unless they are pursuing or defending an administrative appeal.

“BP has, in various different ways, and armed with full and unfettered access to confidential Claim-specific pre-Determination information, repeatedly and continuously attempted to exert its influence and control over the Settlement Program, its Vendors, its staff, and the claims administration process,” they wrote. “In some of these communications, BP has walked the line —and in the case of Emeril’s has clearly crossed the line—in maintaining the confidentiality of Claim-specific information, as required by the Court’s Confidentiality Orders,” they wrote.

They referred to a BP ad that questioned the legitimacy of an $8 million claim award to an unnamed celebrity chef, later identified as Emeril Lagasse.

BP opposed the move in a Tuesday court filing.

“Class Counsel’s motion is baseless,” wrote BP attorney Kevin Downey, a partner at Washington’s Williams & Connolly. He drew a distinction between “claims-related data,” which is available, and “claim files,” which must remain confidential until the claims administrator has made a final determination on whether to grant or deny payments.

“Class Counsel take the incredible position that the parties to a multi-billion-dollar settlement agreement have no right to view data regarding claims filed with the Program until the claims are resolved,” he wrote.

Contact Amanda Bronstad at abronstad@alm.com.