Ruling Expected on BP Oil Spill Settlement After Final Fairness Hearing

On November 8, 2012, Judge Carl Barbier heard presentations from BP, Plaintiffs’ class representatives, and objectors to the proposed settlement agreements between BP and victims of the 2010 oil spill. Attorneys for the oil giant and the plaintiffs have worked since 2010 to research damages and negotiate the complex terms of the proposed settlements. The Court first addressed the “Economic and Property Damages Settlement Agreement,” which itself totals over 1,000 pages. Over 100,000 plaintiffs are seeking economic and property damages as a result of the spill. Although many plaintiff class members agree with the terms, approximately 13,000 filed as objectors to the proposed agreement. The hearing provided an opportunity for objectors to voice their disagreement with various aspects of the settlement terms.

Among the objectors’ concerns: that the geographic compensation zones were inconsistent and arbitrarily drawn; that businesses who are dependent in some way on the tourist industries should be able to appeal “non-tourism” designations; that some owners of coastal property were left out of coastal real property zones; that Grand Isle and other areas should be designated wetland property zones; and that certain seafood classes face shortfalls and a funding cap.

The Court also heard presentations regarding the proposed Medical Benefits Settlement.

The only remedy to those class members opposed to the terms of the settlement agreement was to opt-out of the settlement and attempt to take BP to trial. Following the fairness hearing, Judge Barbier extended the deadline for class members seeking damages for economic and property to revoke requests to opt-out of the settlement agreement from November 5 to December 15, 2012. The result is that individuals who previously opted out of the settlement may rejoin the class action and become subject to the settlement agreement, rather than attempting to pursue individual claims against BP.

As some objectors pointed out at the hearing, individual class members will likely not have the resources to go to trial without the strength and resources of the class behind them. Those who have opted out of the settlement or who are not members of the settlement class may file claims directly with BP and receive recovery through that process.

The Court’s decision on the approval of settlement agreements is expected presently.