- - Thursday, March 8, 2012

LOUISIANA

Federal court takes over BP’s Gulf oil spill claims

NEW ORLEANS | The man who has overseen the long, complicated job of paying out billions of dollars to the victims of the BP oil spill was relieved of his duties Thursday when a federal court took over the claims process in the aftermath of a historic settlement agreement.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier’s order calls for a court-appointed administrator to take over from the Gulf Coast Claims Facility led by Kenneth R. Feinberg, who previously oversaw a compensation fund for the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The move is part of a proposed multibillion-dollar settlement between BP and plaintiffs’ attorneys representing more than 100,000 individuals and businesses.

Mr. Feinberg said he was honored to oversee the claims process that BP created after its blown-out Macondo well triggered a deadly rig explosion in April 2010 and spawned the nation’s worst offshore oil spill.

“It was a difficult assignment, but I think we fulfilled our mandate,” Mr. Feinberg said. “I think we did the job and we did it right.”

BP agreed to pay up to $20 billion to compensate commercial fishermen, charter captains, property owners, hotels and others who claim they suffered economic losses after the spill. The GCCF has processed about 221,300 claims and paid out more than $6 billion from the fund.

The judge appointed Lynn Greer, a Richmond, Va.-based attorney, to fill in for Mr. Feinberg and serve as transition coordinator. Patrick Juneau, a Lafayette-based attorney, will take over and serve as the court-appointed administrator for economic-loss claims if Judge Barbier gives preliminary approval to the settlement announced last Friday.

BP said it expects to pay out $7.8 billion in the settlement, but plaintiffs’ attorneys say the deal is uncapped. Plaintiffs’ attorneys who brokered the settlement have maintained that the court-supervised claims process is a better vehicle for resolving claims than the GCCF has been.

“I think that’s wonderful if they can make it more generous and broaden the eligibility criteria,” Mr. Feinberg said.

The fund paid out the most to businesses and individuals who lost wages and earnings because of the spill, or about $5.9 billion. The fund also paid out emergency claims right after the spill and then moved to get claimants to accept a final offer or take interim payments.

NEW YORK

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