Two lawyers to tell clients to seek own BP deals
Two leading attorneys for plaintiffs in the BP oil-spill case plan to recommend their thousands of clients drop out of the class-action settlement and try their luck in court.
Tony Buzbee, a Houston-based attorney representing more than 12,000 individual plaintiffs, said he plans to advise his clients they can get a better deal than the proposed settlement negotiated by BP and the Plaintiffs' Steering Committee, a group of attorneys appointed by the federal court to represent individual plaintiffs.
The settlement was negotiated for an estimated $7.8 billion to cover claims of individuals and businesses in the Gulf Coast region in the wake of the 2010 disaster. It still must be approved by a federal court after a fairness hearing scheduled for Nov. 8.
Plaintiffs who want to opt out must inform the court by Nov. 1 that they don't want to be included in the class-action settlement.
"In light of the results seen so far, we would be crazy to recommend to our clients to participate in a settlement that will force clients to agree to a process that may pay them nothing, and preclude their court rights," Buzbee wrote in an email to the Houston Chronicle.
The settlement would resolve damages to individuals from the Deepwater Horizon explosion, which killed 11 rig workers and led to a spill of millions of barrels of oil.
New Orleans attorney Stuart Smith, who represents several thousand clients, said he is also considering recommending his clients decline the settlement.
"As things now stand, we are going to recommend that our clients opt out unless they receive an acceptable offer before the deadline," Smith said. "This settlement in my opinion is lawyer-driven and completely inadequate."
BP spokesman Scott Dean said that the company had no comment.
Legal experts said some plaintiff attorneys may be using the threat to pressure the Deepwater Horizon Claims Facility to provide more offers prior to the deadline.
"To me it sounds like they are trying to get some movement on the settlement by threatening to drop out," said Blaine LeCesne, a torts law professor at Loyola University. "It is an effort to get some sort resolution of enough of the claims so they can make an informed decision on whether they should opt out."
Brent Coon, a Beaumont-based attorney representing about 15,000 clients, has expressed frustration over slow settlement offers. He said he will advise his clients individually on the merits of their claims and believes many will take the settlement offer.
"We are not going to implement a mass exodus of our clients," Coon said. " ... Some of our clients are going to be beneficiaries of this class, and we are going to recommend that they take it."
Legal expert David Uhlmann, a former head of the Justice Department's environmental-crimes section who now teaches law at the University of Michigan, does not believe the potential opt-outs will derail the settlement.
"The settlement is favorable for many victims of the spill and is likely to be approved" by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, Uhlmann said. "Those who opt out may wait a long time for their day in court if the judge feels they rejected a reasonable settlement."