* Many claimants can recover 60 pct of money immediately
* BP sees $7.8 billion payout under new payout program
* New program replaces fund overseen by Kenneth Feinberg
* BP still faces large potential fines from US government
* April 2010 Gulf of Mexico disaster killed 11
By Andrew Longstreth and Jonathan Stempel
March 8 The man who has paid out billions
of dollars to victims of the massive 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil
spill has been formally relieved of his duties, and a federal
judge has set up a new process to let more people and businesses
collect some of their money immediately.
Thursday's order by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New
Orleans follows a March 2 agreement in principle for BP Plc
to pay claims by a group of plaintiffs estimated to total
more than 100,000, at a cost of about $7.8 billion.
The order calls for a new administrator to handle claims
from the $20 billion Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF),
replacing the lawyer Kenneth Feinberg.
That fund had been set up to compensate fishermen, hotel
owners, property owners and others for losses from the April 20,
2010, explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and
subsequent oil spill.
The disaster killed 11 people and unleashed an estimated 4.9
million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
Feinberg, who oversaw a compensation fund for victims of the
Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, has received about 1.06 million claims
from roughly 574,000 claimants under the GCCF, and paid out
about $6.1 billion to roughly 221,000 claimants. He could not
immediately be reached for comment.
According to Thursday's order, claimants with final offers
from Feinberg can recover 60 percent of their money immediately.
If they are deemed eligible under the new program, then they may
receive the remaining 40 percent or wait for new awards, which
may be higher but take months to determine.
Until the new program is set up, claims will be reviewed
during a transition period, and successful claimants can also
get 60 percent of their money. Remaining claims would be
determined entirely under the new program.
Lawyers on the Plaintiffs' Steering Committee, which
negotiated the settlement with BP, have said the new program
will be fair and transparent, although some lawyers outside that
process have questioned whether it will be an improvement.
"In the new deal, God knows when you're going to get your
money," said Daniel Becnel, a Louisiana lawyer who has many
clients that have been processing claims through the GCCF. "You
don't know what to tell your client."
A spokesman for the PSC declined to comment.
Lynn Greer, a Richmond, Virginia, lawyer, will coordinate
claims during the transition period.
Patrick Juneau, a lawyer in Lafayette, Louisiana, will
administer claims during that period and would continue in that
role under the proposed court-supervised program.
Through March 7, about 41 percent of the $6.1 billion GCCF
payout has gone to people and businesses in Florida. Another 29
percent has gone to Louisiana, 16 percent to Alabama, 7 percent
to Mississippi, 4 percent to Texas and the remainder elsewhere.
By industry, retail and other services; food, beverages and
lodging; and fishing and seafood processing have comprised the
bulk of the allowed claims.
BP said it has already paid out more than $8 billion to
claimants. It still faces claims by the U.S. Department of
Justice, Gulf Coast states, and its drilling partners Transocean
Ltd and Halliburton Co over the spill.
Federal claims alone for Clean Water Act and other
violations could exceed sums paid to individuals and businesses.
The case is In re: Oil Spill by the Oil Rig "Deepwater
Horizon" in the Gulf of Mexico, on April 20, 2010, U.S. District
Court, Eastern District of Louisiana, No. 10-md-02179.