Gill: BP fleece a done deal

Anyone know a slick attorney? I need one to extract maximum moolah from BP for losses suffered by Gill Enterprises Inc. as a result of the Macondo well blowout.

There is one slight problem in that Gill Enterprises does not exist, but no plaintiff’s attorney worth his salt would be put off by that.

After all, as all parties to the interminable litigation in New Orleans admit, countless companies unaffected by the spill are copping a share of the BP billions. If a real company can be paid off for imaginary losses, it is but a small step to compensate an imaginary company for losses that would have been real if only I had gotten round to setting it up.

I am prepared to swear that Gill Enterprises would have been heavily involved in tourism and seafood production. Obviously, the spill cost me millions.

I did not get round, either, to joining the lawsuit that led to the settlement that imposes no limit on the damages BP will pay for “business economic losses.” There’s probably some dumb rule that says it’s too late to sign up now, but that’s why I need an attorney who can rise above legal technicalities. Otherwise, I am ruined.

What kind of justice would that be when business owners across five Gulf states are falling over one another to take BP to the cleaners? There’s enough money sloshing around to set us all up nicely.

The only possible objection to making a Gill Enterprises claim is that it would be greedy and dishonest, but the courts would go out of business if that were a disqualification. Besides, it’s a bit late in the day to turn prissy; attorneys who sued BP rounded up clients with ads advising businesses that had suffered no damage to seek damages nevertheless.

They did so with a will, and BP now wants a federal appeals court panel to stop what one of its attorneys last week called “fictitious, exaggerated and excessive awards.” BP apparently resents paying $10 million to a construction company 200 miles inland on the theory that its profits would have more than doubled but for the spill, for instance. That was not the most spectacular notional business expansion, however; an alligator farm would have had to experience a 300 percent increase to match the $7.4 million it copped from BP.

There is no doubt that lots of business owners, egged on by the esteemed 40 percenters of the bar, are receiving large sums of money to which they have no moral claim, and even trial judge Carl Barbier, who approved the settlement, has observed that it has produced some “absurd results.”

But he has refused to derail the settlement, and the smart money says the appeals court won’t overrule him. The claimants may not have a moral right to the loot, but they apparently don’t need it. Under the legal principle of a deal is a deal, BP will have to get fleeced and like it.

Its attorney told the appeals court panel there was “no reason why BP would have allowed this to go on, the hemorrhaging of possibly billions of dollars,” but that is just what it did when it negotiated and approved a settlement to avoid the cost of protracted litigation. The settlement incorporates a formula for calculating profits purportedly lost after the spill that has evidently yielded more of a bonanza than BP expected. Maybe Gulf region businesses were less-reticent about filing claims than expected, but BP’s attempt to weasel out of the settlement at a hearing last week elicited little sympathy, particularly from appeals court judge James Dennis.

It is only natural that BP should wish it hadn’t been such a pushover in settlement negotiations, but circumstances demanded a conciliatory approach. After 11 men died on the rig, and BP repeatedly lied about the amount of oil leaking into the Gulf, chief executive Tony Hayward’s chief regret was the personal inconvenience he had suffered. When he whined, “I want my life back,” BP’s stock with the public sank to rock bottom.

BP ingratiated itself somewhat by declining to invoke the $75 million damages cap provided by the Oil Pollution Act, but is evidently now horrified by the escalating cost of penance. Still, Gill Enterprises will keep trying.

James Gill’s email address is jgill@theadvocate.com.