Nearly $396.7 million in claims against oil giant BP have been paid in Louisiana since June 4, the new court-appointed claims administrator said Wednesday in Baton Rouge.
And another $861.3 million soon will be paid to residents of the state and those of Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Texas, said administrator Patrick Juneau, a Lafayette lawyer.
“That number climbs every day,” Juneau said of the money paid by BP in mitigation of massive environmental and economic damage that began in April 2010.
That’s when the DeepwaterHorizon offshore oil rig exploded, killing 11 men and spewing about 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico throughout a four-month period.
Juneau’s comments came in advance of Friday’s deadline for opting out of a settlement agreement that could end a huge collection of lawsuits in the court of U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans.
Barbier has granted preliminary approval for the proposed settlement. The judge, however, also must hold a fairness hearing on the proposal Nov. 8.
About 2,300 litigants have opted out of the proposed settlement so far, Juneau said; however, that 75,857 people or firms have opted to file claims through the settlement program.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity to flow dollars through this state,” Juneau said. “File a claim. If you’re eligible, we’ll pay.”
The BP money authorized for payment of economic-damage claims is available for people and businesses that can show through tax records or other financial documents that their earnings diminished after the tragic blowout, Juneau said.
In the five Gulf states, claimants are not required to prove a direct connection to the coastal disaster, Juneau said. Nor do they have to file a lawsuit against BP.
In the Baton Rouge area, for example, Juneau said settlement awards have been paid to a clothing store and a service station. Other awards have been paid to a farmer in the Monroe area, a medical practice and motel in the Lake Charles area and a dental clinic in the Lafayette area.
The owners of those businesses were able to show their revenue declined after the blowout and improved at some later date, Juneau said.
He said industries excluded from the claims process include oil and gas, banking, insurance, gaming, defense contractors and real estate developers.
“This is a tremendous financial opportunity, if you qualify,” Juneau said. “It doesn’t cost you any money to file a claim.”
The administrator said eligibility notices have been sent to 11,490 claimants who soon will be paid a total of $861.3 million.
Things have not been so smooth for 21,380 other claimants who filed incomplete claims information, however.
“We can’t process those claims until they give us what they have,” Juneau said. “It’s basic information that we’re asking for, essential financial documents that you must have to prove your case.”
In 2010, BP agreed to pay as much as $20 billion for coastal cleanup, economic damages, state government expenses related to the disaster and other losses.
Ray Melick, media and communication director for the Gulf Coast Restoration Organization of BP America Inc., said Wednesday that $20 billion is not a ceiling.
“BP has spent more than $14 billion on the response costs and clean up, and paid more than $8.8 billion in claims, advances and other payments,” Melick said.
BP spokesman Scott Dean said, “BP believes that the (proposed) settlement is a historic resolution that is fair and reasonable.”
Other than a $2.3 billion maximum established for compensation of the seafood industry, Dean said, “the settlement is uncapped.”
Juneau said all of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama is included in the settlement zone. He said only Florida’s Gulf coast is included in that zone. In Texas, only residents of the extreme southeastern corner of the state can file claims for economic loss, Juneau added.
“This is the biggest, most complex settlement in the history of the United States of America,” he said.
Information on the claims process can be found at Juneau’s website, http://www.deepwaterhorizonsettlements.com or by calling (866) 992-6174.