Quick Settlement Warning
Official warns against quick settlement
HOUMA — Louisiana’s attorney general and his Gulf coast peers are warning fishermen and others affected by the BP oil spill to pause before accepting claims czar Ken Feinberg’s offer of quick cash settlements.
The Gulf Coast Claims Facility, which is parceling out the $20 billion set aside for BP claimants according to Feinberg’s rules, is offering $5,000 cash for individuals and $25,000 for businesses in return for a written promise never to sue BP or other firms related to the spill.
Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, in a statement issued Friday, says that may not be the best route for everybody.
“Claimants considering making a quick final payment claim should also evaluate whether their total damages exceed the set amount offered,” the statement reads. “Even if an unforeseen event such as a future hurricane causes more oil from the spill to be washed onshore, a claimant who has signed the release will have lost the right to recover from any resulting loss.”
Caldwell cautioned that fishermen and others who sign the release will be “barred from any additional recovery even if some time in the future the fish population is depleted or fishing waters are closed due to oil.”
The caveat is signed by Caldwell and the attorneys general of Mississippi, Florida and Alabama.
It warns that a decision should be made only after claimants have consulted with legal counsel.
While some local voices have praised Feinberg’s handling of the spill claims, horror stories abound, along with a few from people who signed legal releases early for cash settlements, before the claims process was in place.
Clayton Matherne of Bayou Blue, who sued a BP contractor over the aggravation of respiratory problems related to spill cleanup that make him now unfit to work, has learned he can never recover money for medical bills and other expenses. Matherne said lawyers advised him to accept a $21,000 settlement and promptly took half of it. With medical bills and medicines to pay for, along with normal living expenses, the money didn’t last.
Matherne begged Feinberg for a resolution to his BP claim during a town hall meeting in Houma. He has since been told that his claim is refused. Last week Matherne learned that he is to be evicted from his Bayou Blue home and is in danger of losing his car. Work is not an option, his attorneys have maintained.
“I have nowhere left to turn,” he said. “Feinberg turned me down. Now I can’t sue even the other companies that were involved.”
Attorneys who tried to assist Matherne said his release is ironclad.
Kimberly Chauvin, a boat owner and shrimp processor in Chauvin, has engaged in flurries of e-mails with the claims facility, which she says has lost important claim information. She has also been at loggerheads with BP on behalf of herself and other boat owners whose vessels and crews worked the cleanup, but who now say terms of their contracts have not been met.
For her, the experience has been bitter and maddening. The idea of settlement payouts is, to her, simply ridiculous.
“I wonder which bonehead came up with that idea considering businesses have been scrapped for the whole year,” Chauvin said. “And they want to come up with a $25,000 settlement? Nobody has thought out a plan, there is no transparency. There is nothing to be of help to the people who have lost the most.”
Caldwell’s assistants have already taken depositions from Chauvin and other business owners who say BP has welshed on its contracts. Depositions were given to the state’s criminal division.
“Feinberg and GCCF have stolen more from me than can be repaid. Monetarily it can be repaid. But stress levels and fear are different,” Chauvin said. “Feinberg is no Santa Claus.”
Feinberg has repeatedly urged claimants to consult with lawyers prior to making decision regarding claims and settlements.
He appreciates the attorneys general looking out for their citizens, and he believes he is doing that, too, he said.