BP Settlement Offers Long-Term Protection

April 20th marked the two-year anniversary of the BP oil spill and the tragedy brought close to home how vulnerable Florida’s strongest tourism asset may be to a man-made disaster. Not even a major hurricane can cause the type of long-term damage to our treasured off-shore waters, and subsequently, our sea-shore, than a massive oil spill.

A recent article in the Boston Globe notes a photo which shows fish harvested from the Gulf of Mexico with unusual lesions and infections two years after the spill.

This time it was the Gulf Coast. Tankers navigate the eastern corridor of the state, and as we learned with the recent Costa Concordia sinking in Italy, it takes only one poor decision to cause a major disaster at sea.

Recently, BP, and the nineteen-member, court-appointed Plaintiffs Steering Committee (PSC) spearheading the litigation on behalf of victims of the spill announced that they have reached a settlement in principle. The PSC filed documents in federal court last week detailing the settlement.

The settlement holds BP accountable and provides resources to help thousands of individuals and businesses recover. Of major importance, the settlement will provide for comprehensive medical benefits and an excellent medical monitoring program, fully funded by BP for 21 years. BP reported the value of this settlement as $7.8 billion, but the reality of the settlement is that there is no limit and all claimants’ damages that qualify under the terms of the agreement will be fully compensated.

Unlike the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF) established by BP to resolve claims, the new court approved settlement process established under the agreement will be court-supervised and completely transparent, independent and easy to participate in.

There are many positive facets to the agreement, including provisions of six types of claims to be paid:

  • Individuals and businesses that had economic losses.
  • Damage to waterfront property on beachfront or wetland areas.
  • Loss of value from the sale of real property after the spill.
  • Loss of subsistence use.
  • Vessels of opportunity claims.
  • Seafood harvesting losses.

Additionally, the agreement allows for enhancements to claim amounts based on potential future losses and risks. Calculations have been designed to allow for consideration of all relevant economic factors and are intended to be flexible to meet the needs of all claimants. The terms also include for accounting services to be paid for by BP in this claims process.

The importance of the provision that allows for clinical examinations for up to 21 years to determine what current and long-term health effects exist for those exposed to the oil and dispersants cannot be over-stated, as long-term medical issues often take years to rear themselves.

The PSC’s settlement is not mandatory so if someone wants to pursue their own lawsuit in court with their own attorney, they may do so.

While the settlement does not cover all claims and claimants, it will provide prompt and fair recovery for more people and businesses than any other possible resolution.

Like shutters for a hurricane, this settlement provides a template for long-term protection from such major “storms,” and hopefully serves as a deterrent to major oil companies that are engaged in a necessary, albeit tedious relationship with Florida’s most treasured resource — our nearby off-shore waters.

Ervin A. Gonzalez is a partner at Coral Gables-based Colson Hicks Eidson and one of two Florida attorneys on the 19-member, court-appointed Plaintiffs Steering Committee.