Acadiana Business

Lafayette's Jim Roy plays key role in $7.8B BP settlement

by Leslie Turk

A Lafayette lawyer played a key role in negotiating an $8 billion settlement in principle with BP, but as today's Times-Picayune notes, liability in the massive 2010 spill continues.

Under two federal laws, BP and other companies responsible for the 2010 Gulf disaster may still be facing $20 billion or more in expenses. That's on top of the estimated $7.8 billion settlement worked out over private claims last week, negotiated in large part by Lafayette attorney Jim Roy.

The Deepwater Horizon explosion killed 11 men working on the platform and injured 17 others before spewing - by some estimates - 4.9 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

The Times-Picayune reports Monday that federal, state and local officials are awaiting a still-to-be scheduled conference before U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier to determine the scope of the remaining liability facing BP and other parties:

Under the Clean Water Act, the companies involved in developing the Macondo well using the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon drillship could be required to pay fines totaling $17.6 billion, to which an additional $5 billion could be charged if the companies are found to have been grossly negligent.

Under the terms of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, the responsible parties also are liable for damages to natural resources and the public's use of those resources. That law requires the companies to pay for projects that offset both categories, which could total another $5 billion or more.

The responsible parties also may be subject to smaller fines under other environmental laws, including the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

On top of that, the companies could face another $15 billion in federal criminal penalties if charges are filed against BP, its officers or any other companies associated with the spill. A criminal investigation by the Justice Department of the spill began in June 2010, and criminal charges would trigger a federal trial separate from the civil case.

Read the T-P story here.

On Friday, the Plaintiffs' Steering Committee spearheading the private claims surrounding what's been called the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history announced that a settlement in principle has been reached with BP that will fully compensate hundreds of thousands of victims. There is no cap on the amount BP will pay, with the company obligated to fully satisfy all eligible claims under the terms of the court supervised settlement, regardless of any funds previously set aside, according to a press release issued by PSC.

The agreement will resolve the majority of private economic loss, property damage and medical injury claims stemming from the spill. Included are individuals and businesses harmed by the spill.

Stephen J. Herman of New Orleans-based Herman, Herman, Katz & Cotlar (as well as the national firm of Herman Gerel) and Jim Roy of Domengeaux, Wright, Roy & Edwards served as plaintiffs' co-liaison counsel.

The BP settlement is separate from liability claims against Transocean and Halliburton. The lawyers say two separate settlement agreements have been reached with BP, with the first  compensating private economic losses due to the spill. These claims include businesses and individuals that lost profits; sustained damage to coastal property, wetlands and personal property; sustained real property sales losses; lost subsistence use; and have claims for failure to pay under BP's Vessels of Opportunity Program. The second settlement compensates people with medical claims related to the spill and provides periodic medical consultation for the next 21 years. Claimants can participate in either or both settlement programs.

The lawyers say there will be no delay in the processing of economic loss claims while the heart of the claims process shifts to New Orleans, where court supervision will ensure independence, fairness, transparency of process, and accountability. During the transition period claimants will be able to accept a percentage of their existing GCCF offers while preserving their right to participate in the economic loss settlement.

Under the new program, eligible claimants will generally be paid greater benefits than under the GCCF, according to the lawyers.
PSC released the following details of the settlement in principle:

Economic Loss Claims
Individuals and businesses that suffered financial losses from the oil spill will be compensated within a framework intended to encompass all economic losses reasonably related to the oil spill.
It is presumed that losses suffered by businesses and individuals in close proximity to the Gulf Coast, or in the seafood industry, were caused by the oil spill without further proof. To account for the specific circumstances of other claimants, there are a variety of ways to demonstrate that losses were caused by the oil spill. There is no "one-size-fits-all." The intent of the framework is to be inclusive. Under the settlement, the formula for calculating the amount of compensation allows each claimant to select the months used to measure lost income or profits based on historical earnings. Most importantly, the formula allows claimants to recover for lost growth potential.  Again, there is no "one size fits all."  Generally speaking, for claimants eligible for compensation, a Risk Transfer Premium or "multiplier" will be used to account for ecological and economic uncertainty. The specific RTP multiplier depends on the location and nature of the claimant's business.

Medical Benefits
The Medical settlement will potentially benefit hundreds of thousands of Gulf Coast residents and Clean-Up Workers who suffered acute or chronic illnesses from exposure to oil and chemical dispersants in the weeks and months after the oil spill. Residents in the coastal and wetlands areas of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle will be compensated for a broad range of specific medical conditions such as respiratory, skin, stomach, headaches and a host of other ailments. At one end of the spectrum, Clean-Up Workers can submit a claim with a Declaration under penalty of perjury describing the conditions or symptoms after exposure even if they did not seek medical treatment at the time of exposure. At the other end, residents and workers who suffer chronic symptoms or conditions from exposure will be required to submit medical records from the time of exposure and for ongoing medical care. Coastal residents and Clean-Up Workers who experience future manifestation of illness retain the right to sue BP without proof of liability for the spill and exposure. The settlement also establishes a periodic medical consultation program for 21 years for people affected by the spill to ensure access to appropriate health care throughout the Gulf Coast region. A grant of more than $100 million will be used to establish a five-year program to enhance access to physical and mental health care services in the Gulf Coast region - with an emphasis on integrated and sustainable community-based primary and mental health care and environmental and occupational health services. These services will benefit families in the entire region for years to come.

Affected Property Owners
Property owners and long-term lessees of waterfront properties in the affected coastal and wetlands region are eligible to receive compensation for loss of use and enjoyment of their property. This compensation was not available through the GCCF and recognizes that residents in the affected region were unable to fully enjoy their homes in the aftermath of the oil spill.