Continued Legal Issues Following 2010 Gulf Oil Spill

Our location on the Gulf of Mexico provides our region with great beauty, business opportunities, and a myriad of recreational activities. It, however, also makes our community and economy vulnerable to an oil spill. As your Panama City property damage law firm, The Pittman Firm has been closely monitoring all legal developments since the 2010 Deep Horizon spill, an event that impacted the entire Gulf Coast community.

According to an article in The News Herald, counsel for BP and attorneys representing plaintiffs harmed by the spill presented Judge Barbier with the formal terms of a proposed class-action settlement last week. The judge has not given an indication of when he will rule, but the attorneys are hoping that he will issue a preliminary approval. The judge would then conduct a formal fairness hearing to fully evaluate the settlement before issuing a final court approval.

As crafted, the settlement would impact BP and a plaintiff class that includes over 100,000 businesses and individuals impacted by the 2010 disaster. Pursuant to the proposed settlement, BP would pay an estimated $7.8 billion in damages to resolve the private party claims, with no set cap on total damages that the company may face. If approved, the oil spill agreement would be one of the largest class action settlements to date. Both plaintiff-side lawyers and defense counsel have said that the agreement crafts a comprehensive system for determining compensation due to each claimant that is reasonable, fair, and adequate.

The proposed settlement does not cover claims brought by government bodies at either the state or federal level against BP and its partners in the Deep Horizon project. Claims against Houston-based Halliburton, the cement contractor, and Transocean Limited, the Swiss rig owner, will also remain and are not a part of this proposal. These remaining claims will be discussed in a status conference on May 2nd.

An important matter that is included in the proposal is the attempted resolution of individual health-related complaints, such as medical claims brought by Gulf Coast residents and clean-up workers. Health claims have not been paid as part of the existing Gulf Coast Claims Facility. Under the proposed settlement, different levels of payment would apply to different illnesses. The agreement would also require BP to spend upwards of $105 million over a 5-year span to create and run an outreach program that would provide medical evaluations to individuals whose health may have been impacted by the spill.

The settlement proposal also addresses business losses, lost wages, and property damage claims. This includes damage to ships and other vessels involved in clean-up work. Having suffered a significant impact, the seafood industry would receive approximately $2.3 billion from BP, which would include coverage for lost compensation for those whose fishing businesses were harmed by the spill. Additional payments include $57 million to help promote tourism and area industries and $600 million in legal costs plaintiff-side attorney's fees. The proposal sets aside $5 million aimed at providing notice to potential claim-holders and informing them about how they can be part of the settlement.

Although several groups, including the Florida Attorney General, have expressed concern about the settlement, the proposal is one more step forward in reaching a resolution to a very complicated matter. The oil and gas industries are vital to our economy, but they are also high-risk endeavors. If you or your business has suffered losses due to an environmental disaster in Panama City, please contact our office. Our Panama City injury attorney is ready and able to help you receive any and all compensation the law allows.

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