Federal judge urged to approve BP’s proposed settlement of Gulf oil spill claims
NEW ORLEANS — BP and attorneys for businesses and people who lost money in the Gulf oil spill urged a federal judge Thursday to give his final approval to a class-action settlement.
U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier heard arguments from lawyers who negotiated the deal as well as other attorneys who have objected to parts of it. BP PLC estimates it will pay $7.8 billion to the resolve claims over the Gulf oil spill, but the settlement is not capped and BP could pay out more or less.
Barbier, who didn’t immediately rule, said the hearing was designed to help him determine if the settlement is “fair, reasonable and adequate” and that he doesn’t have the authority to rewrite or renegotiate it. Barbier said he would rule in the coming days. However, he said some of the objections he heard were “frankly, not made in good faith and bordered on being frivolous.”
Barbier preliminarily approved the agreement in May. Since then, thousands of people have opted out of the deal to pursue their claims individually. BP attorney Rick Godfrey said fewer people opted out than the company had expected.
Jim Roy, a lead plaintiffs’ attorney, said the BP oil spill settlement could resolve more than 100,000 claims.
“This settlement provides the class with an opportunity to try to put this behind them and get on with their lives,” he said.
BP has agreed to pay $2.3 billion for seafood-related claims by commercial fishing vessel owners, captains and deckhands. The amount is nearly five times more than the average industry revenue between 2007 and 2009, Godfrey said.
“It was a generous program, and it was designed to account for future risk,” Godfrey said.
Joel Waltzer, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys who filed an objection, said the seafood program doesn’t adequately compensate some kinds of commercial fishermen.
“We don’t need to hit a homerun, but we need to get on base,” he said. “It doesn’t justify the rights that they’re giving up.”
Barbier told Waltzer he was “too focused on what somebody else is getting compared to your clients.”
“You’re comparing apples to oranges,” the judge said.
The agreement also calls for paying medical claims by cleanup workers and others who say they suffered illnesses from exposure to the oil leaked during the BP oil spill or chemicals used to disperse it. In addition, BP has agreed to spend $105 million over five years to set up a Gulf Coast health outreach program and pay for medical examinations…
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