- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 9, 2015

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Joe Baroni knew he was cutting it close.

“We filled all this out over the weekend,” he said, clutching a sheaf of documents as he stood in line behind a couple of dozen other people Monday, hoping to file a claim for economic damages from the 2010 BP oil spill ahead of a midnight deadline.

“We’re ready to hand it in - as far as I know,” Baroni said, then added jokingly, “We might find out I’m on the wrong boat.”

He and many others were filing claims for compensation under the terms of a 2012 settlement that plaintiffs’ lawyers struck with BP. A boat owner, Baroni said he used to conduct recreational fishing trips and he also shot video for a local sports fishing TV show - until the spill interrupted his activities. He confessed to uncertainty that he would be able to adequately estimate or document his losses to the satisfaction of claims officials.

The line outside the claim office at a strip mall in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie was 40-deep Monday night. The News-Journal in Pensacola reported that the claims center there was doing a brisk business that was being slowed by computer problems. Claims offices in Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas were open until midnight.

Patrick Juneau, the attorney appointed by a federal court to oversee the claims process, had predicted a last-minute rush. He issued a statement Monday saying there was a “substantial increase” in filings at claims offices and online.

Some late filers said they only recently heard of the settlement or of the impending Monday midnight deadline. Others weren’t certain whether they would qualify for compensation for economic damages resulting from the spill. Juneau said it would take days to arrive at a final figure for the number of claims, noting that claims also were being filed by mail and would be accepted as long as they were postmarked June 8.

“I just found out about it Friday,” said George Torlage of Metairie, an instructor in car repair at a local community college, who was one of at least three people in line planning to file a claim seeking compensation because the spill ruined fishing that provided them with a substantial percentage of their food.

Albert Canalizo said he opened a skin care business catering to women in Asian communities that depend heavily on fishing income. The business went bust, he said, after the spill. He delayed in filing because he was uncertain a startup would qualify for compensation.

In a recent interview, Juneau said more than 328,000 claims had been filed as of the middle of last week.

As of mid-April, more than $5 billion in claims had been paid out, according to Juneau’s office.

The spill began when the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig exploded in flames April 20, 2010, killing 11 workers and spewing oil from the sea floor for 87 days.

The 2012 settlement was hailed by all involved when it was signed, but soon became the subject of contention over its interpretation by the district court in New Orleans and by Juneau. BP said payments were being made to some entities whose losses weren’t caused by the spill.

Courts rejected that argument. BP, meanwhile, has undertaken an advertising campaign, including full-page newspaper ads, to warn against filing fraudulent claims. “From payday to prison time,” read the headline on one such ad.

In 2012, BP estimated it would pay roughly $7.8 billion to resolve claims under the settlement. BP later said it couldn’t give a reliable estimate for the deal’s total cost. In its first-quarter earnings report for 2015, BP said it could estimate at least a $10.3 billion cost. But it stressed that there was no way of knowing how many claims would be filed by the deadline and that the total cost would likely be significantly higher.

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Online:

Deepwater Horizon claims center:

http://www.deepwaterhorizoneconomicsettlement.com/index.php

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