Judge Allows BP Oil Spill Settlement Payments to Resume

A federal judge overseeing transactions involving the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF) for damages related to the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill has ruled to lift a temporary halt on those payments after settling a matter involving attorney fees.

Associated Press reports U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier has allowed payments from the $20 billion escrow fund established by British Petroleum (BP) soon after oil stopped gushing from a ruptured underwater drilling well in the Gulf of Mexico in the late summer 2010. Administrators of the fund, through which those who suffered damages or injuries related to the record oil spill and ongoing environmental disaster, had stopped payments to claimants on Jan. 3 because they were asked to include a 6 percent legal fee to claims paid after Nov. 7, 2010, from GCCF.

Barbier ruled on Dec. 28, 2010, that the 6 percent fee be added to all payments from that November date until the end of December. In a “clarification” to that ruling, Barbier indicated any payment made after his decision on the 28th should include that fee, therefore sparing people who’ve already received payments since November of paying the fees from their awards.

AP reports $260 million was paid from the BP fund from early November through the end of the year. More than $5 billion has already been paid to those who’ve experienced business or property damages or personal injuries as a result of the deadly oil rig explosion and subsequent spill.

Attorneys comprising the Plaintiffs Steering Committee asked Judge Barbier to establish a fund which covered their accumulating legal fees. Those in the Steering Committee estimated they’ve spent $11.5 million and 230,000 hours laboring over claims and accumulating evidence against BP and those other companies which managed, operated or built the destroyed Deepwater Horizon rig.

On April 20, 2010, an explosion aboard the oil rig located about 60 miles off the coast of Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico touched off raging inferno, killing 11 workers at the site. The blaze persisted until the rig suffered a partial collapse, rupturing several massive wells which fed the rig. The world watched underwater camera footage of raw crude oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico for months through the summer of that year and at least 200 million gallons of oil eventually emptied into the sea, home to countless indigenous species of shellfish and other aquatic life and the source of business and employment for tens of thousands of people living along the coast from Texas to Florida. Several attempts to cap one well were documented and most resulted in failure.

Thousands of people and businesses have sought damage claims through the facility established by BP at the request of President Barack Obama in September 2010. While attorneys not part of the Steering Committee believe Judge Barbier’s decision is unfair and that not all claimants have relied upon it, the 340 attorneys from 90 law firms across the country believe they’ve had to establish an entire case against those companies responsible for the oil spill.

A BP-funded marketing campaign has been launched on television and the Web recently to encourage visitors to return to the Gulf coast region, claiming “it’s back” and the foreign oil company has even taken to sponsoring some U.S. Olympic athlete hopefuls but that tells only one small side of a much larger tale.

Thousands of people living or working along or in the Gulf of Mexico continue to suffer daily, either because they’ve been forced out of work or are forced to live with disabling side effects related to the work to clean the oil spill from the water and beaches during and after the spill. Another recent decision related to this claims facility allowed businesses – specifically fisheries – to collect increased claims through the fund because the Gulf waters were not producing shrimp, mussels and other iconic foods caught from it.

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