BP has begun the process of launching an aggressive public relations campaign to challenge the billions of dollars in oil spill settlements it is required to pay to plaintiffs relating to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. According to recent news reports, BP has decided to place full-age ads in three major national newspapers: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post.
In each ad, the oil giant intends to blame trial lawyers and politicians for encouraging Gulf Coast residents and businesses to submit inflated or even false claims for damages. The ads are meant to curry favor with the public, claiming that these inflated settlement claims are depriving genuinely harmed Gulf Coast residents of money they desperately need.
The fight over settlement payouts began when BP challenged the current methodology employed by the court-appointed claims administrator, Patrick Juneau. BP argued the methodology was unfair and led to significantly higher payouts than it anticipated. Judge Carl Barbier, who is overseeing the oil spill litigation, ruled in April that Juneau’s formula was perfectly acceptable under the terms of the settlement agreement reached between BP and plaintiffs.
BP was not willing to accept defeat and has since filed an appeal with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, asking the judges to intervene and stop the payouts. BP’s recent ad takes direct aim at Judge Barbier, saying his ruling interprets the settlement agreement in a way that was never intended. The PR offensive comes as the Fifth Circuit prepares to hear the case on July 8th.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys have responded to the news about the PR offensive by claiming this is yet another indication of BP’s sour grapes. Various courts have rejected BP’s settlement complaints multiple times and the hope is that the Fifth Circuit follows suit. Attorneys point out that in court filings BP called attention to only four examples of suspicious settlement claims out of more than 40,000 claims in an attempt to shock the Court. Rather than represent a genuine concern for injured residents of the Gulf Coast, the ad is instead yet another attempt by BP to get out of the deal they struck with plaintiffs.
Plaintiffs point out that the payments to businesses BP is complaining about were clearly detailed in the signed settlement agreement between the parties. BP did not do their homework and incorrectly guessed the cost of the settlement and now is trying to unwind the mess that they made. The fact is the company had plenty of time – more than two years in fact – to work through the specifics of the settlement agreement, pretending now that the multibillion-dollar corporation is somehow a victim is utterly preposterous.
Source: “BP mounts offensive in spill settlement dispute,” by Michael Kunzelman, published at ClarionLedger.com.
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