A federal appeals court ruled Monday that businesses recovering money for economic losses related to the 2010 BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill will not have their payments withheld or have to prove that they were directly harmed by the spill. The decision upheld a December 24 ruling by US District Judge Carl Barbier.
The court ruled that BP will not be allowed to renege on a 2012 Settlement Agreement the company negotiated and authored after the spill. The ruling also calls for an injunction to be lifted so that payments can resume.
“We conclude the settlement agreement does not require a claimant to submit evidence that the claim arose as a result of the oil spill,” the majority decision states. Terms of the Settlement Agreement “are not as protective of BP’s present concerns as might have been achievable, but they are the protections that were accepted by the parties and approved by the district court.”
BP has tried to shirk claim accountability in the past, arguing against its own Settlement Agreement and complaining that it was being forced to pay “fictitious and inflated claims.” In July, US District Judge Carl Barbier rejected BP’s request to temporarily suspend all settlement payments. Barbier later ruled that BP had agreed to pay claims without requiring strict proof linking economic losses directly to the spill and that the company should be held to the agreement they authored.
BP immediately filed an appeal, saying, “The district court’s December 24 ruling is yet another of its interpretive errors that has inflicted significant harm on BP.” Now George Morrell, a BP spokesman, says the company may appeal again.
“It is ironic that BP talks about people ‘getting something for nothing’ when that’s exactly what BP is trying to do,” commented Brian Barr, an attorney with Levin, Papantonio and a member of the Plaintiff’s Steering Committee for the BP Gulf Coast Oil Spill litigation
“BP has plead guilty to 11 counts of felony manslaughter for the deaths it caused on the Deepwater Horizon,” he added. “The difference between BP and most other convicted felons is that it has millions of dollars to spend trying to falsely convince the public that it is being mistreated by the American judicial system in the enforcement of a settlement that it negotiated, and to which it agreed.”
BP originally estimated that it would have to pay roughly $7.8 billion to resolve claims for economic losses. As the company began to challenge payments and seek injunctions to halt payments, it increased the estimated amount of the deal. So far, the company has paid $3.84 billion to claimants.
Recently, BP has been trying to negotiate the “penalty phase” of its trial, which will determine the fine it has to pay for violations of the Clean Water Act. The company has also been complaining that the US government’s assessment of evidence has been “fundamentally unfair and prejudicial.”
BP claims there is “extensive evidence that the environmental harm was far less than the US or other feared” and that “environmental recovery is well under way.”
Alisha is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. You can follow her on Twitter @childoftheearth.