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Posts Tagged ‘Exxon Valdez

Here come the lawyers…a day in Judge Barbier’s court…

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Making things right...one attorney at a time...

Okay, so first we acknowledge the obvious:

Lawyers being lawyers, and British Petroleum having long since given up that whole “making things right,” and “actions, not words” schtick – at least in reality – of course BP is going to try to use every legal maneuver to pay as little as possible to anyone. Their company’s in trouble now that the Rosneft deal looks blown so yeah, that whole Gulf Coast thing…it’s one big financial/legal liability and since the media interest flags, it’s time for corporate law to rear the ugliest of heads to take the biggest bite they can…

So stated, let’s move on to the latest from British Petroleum’s attorneys in Judge Carl Barbier’s court, shall we?

Turns out (surprise) British Petroleum is of the legal opinion that the claims for economic and punitive damages as a result of their little ‘ol spill, including those who lost jobs/wages as a result of the drilling moratorium, including those first responders who got sick during the cleanup, including basically…everybody, should be summarily dismissed by Judge Barbier.

Oh…but why?

Because these people must go through Feinberg’s GCCF claims process, first.

Oh…but why?

That pesky Oil Pollution Act of 1990, that’s why. Andrew Langer, BP’s head legal talking head argues that OPA states claimants must first attempt to redress their grievances with the responsible party – BP, and if they are then denied by the responsible party, only then can they file a claim in court. Langer also claims the Oil Pollution Act supersedes maritime law, and since OPA doesn’t allow for the punitive damages allowed under maritime law, these claims must be dismissed as well.

Dismissed, just like that…upwards of 130,000 legal claims.

Judge Barbier gave no timeline on when he would rule on the matter, but perhaps Feinberg now should really want to hold off on closing all those GCCF claims offices, you know, just in case.

BP’s desire isn’t surprising, it makes sense they would want these people to go through the GCCF. Much as the oil company would like to control a United States court of law, they don’t, but the GCCF and Feinberg are a different matter. There they hold much more sway. Hell, their guy wrote the rules, the same man Judge Barbier already ruled can’t claim himself as independent of BP. Good ‘ol Ken, the lawyer whose law firm is paid $1.25 million dollars a month by BP. Way back when, the GCCF and Feinberg’s stated mission was to keep people out of court, but this didn’t entirely happen, especially when his “generous” payments turned out to not be so generous after all. So now British Petroleum argues Judge Barbier should rule in their favor and complete Feinberg’s mission for them, kick the claimants into BP’s court, where they can be delayed, stalled, and hopefully, so frustrated that some throw up their hands and take Feinberg’s “generous” claims instead of heading back into court to be delayed, stalled and frustrated anew by BP’s lawyers.

From a legal standpoint, it makes sense. What does British Petroleum really have to lose? Self respect? The goodwill of the Gulf Coast? Well, self-respect and goodwill ain’t worth a dime and this whole mess has appeared to be about the money for this company since day one. 

The plaintiffs’ attorneys, of course, disagree with BP, arguing OPA was created after the 1989 Exxon-Valdez spill because legal remedies available at the time were insufficient. They further argue the companies involved in the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon shouldn’t be able to now use OPA as a legal shield to escape punitive damages and throw these legal claims into the GCCF mess. Besides, the oil pollution act of 1990 doesn’t expressly declare an intent to displace maritime law, whereas other statutes that prevent punitive damages do specifically prohibit them.

Judge Barbier, who questioned both sides’ arguments, asked how it is he is supposed to go through the 130,000 cases to determine which should be thrown out and which should be allowed to proceed. Nobody seemed to have an answer on this, beyond saying such a process will be exceedingly time-consuming.

Even more so pehaps, then the GCCF’s claim process.

But British Petroleum wasn’t the only company to get in on this four-hour hearing, and all involved had an argument on why these pesky economic claims should be dismissed. Represented in court were Anadarko, Halliburton, Cameron International and Transocean. Transocean argued that since BP is the responsible party, economic claims should only be made against BP under OPA, and then it would be BP’s right to go after the other companies to pay their share. You see, the people have filed suit against the wrong companies in the wrong order.

In other words, much like Feinberg’s screaming about unsatisfactory documentation, all of the big companies on the hook here are claiming the businesses and the people of the Gulf Coast are doing it wrong, not adhering to the correct process, not filing suit against the right company, not going through the GCCF process first, where they would inevitably be unable to document their claims in the correct way.

Or in other, other words…the claimants, the victims in this colossal fuck-all, the right thing for them to do would be to do as they are told, hurry up and wait, and go back to a GCCF process many consider long since broken.

All unless Judge Barbier, much like finally declaring Feinberg not independent, sides again on behalf of the people so harmed by this disaster, a catastraphuk not of their own creation.

Oh, but that’s not all, there’s more…

On the drilling moratorium: BP also asked for a dismissal of the claims by people who lost jobs/wages as a result of the drilling moratorium, saying it was the government who declared the moratorium, not BP, so why are they at fault? According to the plaintiffs’ attorneys, the moratorium was something the government would reasonable feel was necessary when they realized, hey, those oil rigs aren’t as safe as we ignored/were led to believe and you know what? We don’t have the resources to fight off these kind of spills so we better do a safety check. The plantiffs’ attorneys are also guessing the moratorium wouldn’t have happened had the Deepwater Horizon not exploded and since, under OPA, BP is the responsible party…well…they should be liable because one plus one usually equals two.

Unless you’re watching the latest “making it right,” advertisement by British Petroleum.

Attorneys for Nalco were also in court, the makers of Corexit dispersant and they argued they should have immunity from damage claims by people who got sick inhaling their toxins because the Federal government was in charge of the response, and it was the federal government who chose to use Corexit, “This was a spill of national significance, which put all of the decision-making in the hands of the federal government,” said their attorney.

One might wonder if this attorney is referring to the same government whose EPA expressly ordered British Petroleum to stop using Corexit dispersant, only to have BP refuse…somehow equating BP’s ability to do as they wished throughout the spill response with the ability of the government to be in charge of all the decision-making. 

There’s also the matter of all the private contractors who claim they deserve immunity too because they were doing cleanup under the same fully authoritative decision-making of the same federal government who had everyone listening intently on that whole Corexit deal. The plaintiffs’ attorneys in this case rightfully argued said contractors weren’t working for the government, they were hired by and working for BP and thus, why should they have immunity?

The entire hearing lasted a total of four hours and there’s more, but damn, my fingers are getting tired so perhaps I should just try wrapping this up:

British Petroleum, Transocean, Anadarko, Cameron International, Nalco…dismiss everything so we can better direct our funds to making things right for the Gulf Coast…

Residents and businesses of the Gulf Coast…get out of their way, you’re doing it wrong so go talk to Feinberg and he’ll tell you in no uncertain terms just how wrong you all are, while he painstakingly helps you to move on, being the loyal neutral arbitrator that he is…

The lawyers? Well, they’re busy being lawyers…

But most importantly, Judge Barbier, it’s up to you now and I for one, hope your ruling continues the process of finally making things right for all the people along the Gulf Coast that British Petroleum has made so wrong.

Read the article:

Defendants in oil spill litigation seek to have groups of claims dismissed

Have a nice day.

Rolling Dice in the Gulf Coast – Here Comes Feinberg and His “Choice”

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Go on...roll 'em, what ya got to lose?

“Tomorrow morning, the Gulf Coast Claims Facility is up and running,” said Ken Feinberg, appointed by Barack Obama to administer the $20 billion dollar escrow fund, “BP is out of the claims-processing business beginning tomorrow.”

In many respects this is good news. Kenneth Feinberg has promised to get reparations money into the hands of residents within 48 hours and to business owners within a week. This will enable many families to pay rent and mortgages and otherwise financially begin the struggle back from the infliction of BP’s Catastraphuk, and for many businesses, it will be the difference between staying open and closing down. The way this picture has been presented, Feinberg is a neutral arbitrator, beholden to no one so everybody wins. Everyone, including British Petroleum, and it turns out the person who rigged this game is none other than Kenneth Feinberg.

First, the easy part: any resident who can show financial impact from the spill are due emergency payouts with no strings attached, and this will continue until November 23rd. After this date, however, the rules of the game will change dramatically. When Gulf Coast residents apply for a final damages payment, an amount to be determined by Feinberg and his team they will be forced to make a choice. If they accept the payment they waive their right to sue BP at a later date for any successive damages, but if they turn the payment down, they may have to wait years, decades even for any compensation as their claim make its way through the legal system. Feinberg has promised to be more generous than any court. He has stated that if he doesn’t find you eligible for a final payment no court will, but eligibility for payment is not the point. The point is the amount of time it would take to go through the courts versus the difficulty inherent in Gulf Coast residents trying to determine what amount is an acceptable final payment for what they’ve lost and might still lose.

And having to make this determination, having to decide how much is fair and having to decide now, to give up your right for future compensation?

This was Feinberg’s idea.

From the AP:

The new administrator for claims by Gulf oil spill victims says it was his idea, not BP’s, to require that anyone who receives a final settlement from the $20 billion compensation fund give up the right to sue the oil giant.

Now as it has always been, this choice is a game of craps. What was unknown is it was Feinberg, not BP who loaded the dice. Gulf Coast Residents are being asked to make a determination on how long this spill will impact their lives, when the only thing we know for sure is nobody knows how, or how long this spill will do so. Feinberg’s rules appear to assume the Gulf’s recovery is on a constantly improving trajectory, when the evidence coming out of the Gulf shows this trajectory to be anything but constantly improving.

For example:

1. When British Petroleum chose to use dispersants to fight this oil spill, they drove the oil under the surface where the havoc it is wreaking on the environment is not completely understood, and won’t be understood for many years to come, long after Feinberg’s final payments are issued.

2. The long-term health effects of the dispersants and the crude oil on Gulf Cost residents remain unknown. Significant medical studies were never done on cleanup workers after the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska. Scientists instead have had to pull together a collection of studies on possible long-term health effects from toxic chemicals found in crude oil and the health effects of these studies include severe DNA degradation which can lead to cancer, birth defects and irreversible neurological damage. No such effects will be known until after final payments are received.

3. Nobody knows what might happen the first time a hurricane makes landfall on the Gulf Coast after churning through the Gulf of Mexico’s waters, but the potential exists for storm surges carrying crude and dispersants inland where it could do further damage.

4. Nobody knows the full financial impact if tainted seafood makes it to market. Evidence is being found of dispersants and oil entering the food chain and lately it has been revealed that the FDA weren’t even testing seafood for toxic heavy metals known to be in crude oil, despite the catch coming from known oiled areas.

5. The Macondo Well has yet to even be permanently sealed. What if something has gone wrong, or something does go wrong with the relief wells or sea floor as many believe? Oil could or will continue to leak into the gulf from the ruptured well for many years to come, many years, more damage…again, after final payments are issued.

None of these situations are static, yet Gulf Coast residents will soon be asked to choose if the final payment offered is enough to cover the damages from any one of these potential eventualities, or possibly a combination of several and should any occur, the choices made could save British Petroleum millions more in future lawsuits.

Feinberg has described his claims program as “entirely voluntary,” and though on paper he may be right, when real life steps in it becomes murkier. Programs are only voluntary when people are not feeling severe financial pressure. When people can’t afford the time it will take to exercise their legal right to sue, a program is not voluntary.

Feinberg likes to point out how it took 20 years for people to settle damages after the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska. By the time Alaskans were being compensated, a number of people impacted by that spill were no longer even alive to collect their payments and the speed of compensation in the Gulf Coast is one of Feinberg’s oft-repeated selling points. People are out of work. Businesses are closing. Families are fracturing. People can’t pay their rent, their mortgages their utility bills or put food on the table. Feinberg’s emergency payments will take care of much of these smaller financial burdens, but the largest burdens are left beholden to the final payments: potential medical bills, any sort of job or future security, peace of mind for thousands who would not have had to worry about such things if not for British Petroleum’s Catastraphuk.

And for these final payments, they will be asked to make a choice, an estimate based on facts they don’t have, and to make matters worse, this lack of clarity is compounded by the “facts” they do have, many of which remain suspect. Reports from the EPA, FDA, NOAA all called into question by whistle blowers and independent scientists, and many more newer, potentially more detailed reports are quashed by British Petroleum’s hiring and silencing of so many other university scientists, along with the government’s decision to quickly following suit with the same tactic, all for the stated purpose of legal defense and prosecution.

Well, just try deciding how much your family’s life, livelihood, culture and future is worth while in the middle of a fog of doubt and distrust.

Or better yet try imagining:

Your house has suffered a fire, and while standing on the sidewalk watching it smolder, along comes an arbitrator offering you a settlement amount before the fire damage is inspected, would you accept? How about if you found out upon receipt of payment you would have no legal recourse after any inspection and the person who decided you would have no legal recourse was the arbitrator. How about if the firemen who put out your fire were hired by those who set it, and you suspected they all had been misleading you about the damage ever since the fire started, oh and your kids beside you are coughing from smoke inhalation and they haven’t been to a doctor yet. And you knew that when your neighbor’s house burned down, it took them twenty years to get their settlement?  Let’s not forget your livelihood was an in-home business, also burned and didn’t ya know that winter is on the way…would you then feel the choice you had to make is a fair choice, or even that you had a choice?

If so, then roll the dice and welcome to the Gulf Coast.

Welcome to Feinberg’s bigger and better deal.

Your neutral arbitrator of of the $20 billion dollar compensation fund is the one, not BP, who decided to apply the pressure of a “no sue” clause.

Read the articles:

Ken Feinberg’s claims agency starts work tomorrow

Ken Feinberg says no-sue clause on oil spill claims was his idea

Have a nice day.

(illustration by the artist: Coop)

Before We Get Too Happy With Ourselves BP, Take A Look At Raccoon Island

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Is that Doug Suttles Boat? What a great sight

In one of the largest nesting areas for seabird off the Louisiana Coast, the oil has come ashore. At least 300 brown pelicans and hundreds of terns have been seen with everything from spots of oil to complete coverage…all of it fatal as even spots prevent the birds from regulating their body temperature. These bird are not reflected in the federal count of killed wildlife because they have not been collected, something that must be done to make their doom official. This is beneficial in two ways as it allows the federal government to keep the wildlife death rate low, and it also allows BP executives to sleep better at night, something they desperately need after a full day of fighting oil slicks.

Oil hit Raccoon island on July 10th, but unlike a spill such as the Exxon Valdez where the oil pays only one visit – BP, with its use of dispersants has assured that the initial wave of oil pushed ashore by Hurricane Alex will only be one of many more to come.

So, Mr. Scott Dudley, I am sure that you and all of your BP executive buddies who referred to the halt of oil today as a “great sight” are excited and everything, but take a look around…a real look.

“Great sight” is not a term to use in relation to anything in this mess of your creation. Just ask a fisherman, or a dead pelican…ass.

Read the story…

Oil Hits Louisiana’s Largest Pelican-Nesting Area, On Raccoon Island

Have a nice day now…