BP presses for settlement
NEW ORLEANS — BP and attorneys for businesses and people who lost money in the Gulf oil spill urged a federal judge yesterday to give his final approval to a class-action settlement.
US 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 estimates it will pay US$7.8 billion ($700 billion) to the resolve claims, but the settlement is not capped and BP could pay out more or less.
Barbier, who has hinted he won't immediately rule, said the hearing was designed to help him determine if the settlement is "fair, reasonable and adequate." He said it's not his job to rewrite or renegotiate it.
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.
"The settlement is working as we contemplated and as we negotiated," he told the judge.
Jim Roy, a lead plaintiffs' attorney, said the 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.
The deal is spelled out in hundreds of pages of documents.
BP has agreed to pay US$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.
The agreement also calls for paying medical claims by cleanup workers and others who say they suffered illnesses from exposure to the oil or chemicals used to disperse it. In addition, BP has agreed to spend US$105 million over five years to set up a Gulf Coast health outreach program and pay for medical examinations.
The settlement doesn't resolve separate claims brought by the federal government and Gulf Coast states against BP and its partners on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. Those claims involve environmental damage from the nation's worst offshore oil spill.
It also doesn't resolve claims against Switzerland-based rig owner Transocean Ltd. and Houston-based cement contractor Halliburton.
A trial next year is designed to identify causes of BP's well blowout and assign percentages of fault to the companies involved in the disaster.