The new administrator of the court-supervised BP oil spill claims process is promising that things will be different this time. According to a report from Nola.com, Patrick Juneau, the court-appointed oil-spill claims administrator for the Deepwater Horizon Claims Center, began a four-state tour of claims offices along the Gulf Coast yesterday, saying that his first mission would be to reach out to the employees who will be approving and disapproving claims.
The Deepwater Horizon Claims Center was established under a settlement tentatively approved in May 2012 by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, who is overseeing MDL 2179 In re: Oil Spill by the Oil Rig “Deepwater Horizon” in Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010. The settlement sets up two processes, one for businesses and individuals to file economic damage claims. The second process will pay medical claims filed by oil spill clean up workers and Gulf Coast residents who claim to have been sickened by exposure to spilled oil. Though no cap has been put on the total amount of the settlement, BP has said it expects to spend around $7.8 billion paying out claims.
Yesterday was the first day businesses and individuals could begin filing economic damage claims. According to Nola.com, while Juneau has decided to use the same vendors that his predecessor, Kenneth Fienberg, used to staff the much-maligned Gulf Coast Claims Center, he has promised they will operate in a very different manner. Among other things, Juneau insisted the claims center be staffed with only highly qualified, well-trained and local employees. He has also promised that they will no longer operate like insurance adjusters, who work to justify the smallest possible payout.
According to Nola.com, Juneau said yesterday that he had he heard horror stories from the Feinberg era about intake workers recording claims in the wrong industry, and investigations of potential fraud causing claims to fall into a “deep, dark hole,” even when no wrongdoing was found. His goal is avoid those types of problems this time around.
“We have done our damnedest to train people as meticulously as we can,” Juneau said. “On the 15th floor of the Exchange Center, they gave practice runs for evaluating claims and tested them, like you think you’re back in high school. I’m satisfied we’ve done what we can do.”
The new economic damage claims process is open both to those who had claims rejected by Feinberg and those who never previously sought payments, Nola.com said.
The central office for the Deepwater Horizon Claims Center is located in the Exchange Center, in downtown New Orleans. Another 18 Gulf Coast offices will also open, and include locations Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida and Texas.
A separate facility will eventually open to take medical claims from coastal residents and cleanup workers. Medical damage payments won’t begin, however, unless and until the class is certified by the court and is upheld on a likely appeal.