Clint Guidry, the Louisiana shrimp harvester
representative on the Louisiana Shrimp Task
Force created by Executive Order of Gov. Bobby
Jindal, has called BP "liars" and "killers."
(Photo: Erika Blumenfeld)
Gulf Coast fishermen and others with lost income claims against British Petroleum (BP) are outraged by a recent announcement that the $20 billion government-administered claim fund will subtract money they earn by working on the cleanup effort from any future damage claims against BP. This move, according to lawyers in Louisiana working on behalf of Louisiana fishermen and others affected by the BP oil disaster, contradicts an earlier BP statement in which the company promised it would do no such thing.
Kenneth Feinberg, who was appointed by President Obama as the independent administrator of the Gulf Claims Facility for the $20 billion BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster compensation fund, said yesterday that the wages earned by people working on BP's cleanup will be deducted from their claims against the company.
He said the fund is designed to compensate fishermen and others for their lost income, and if BP is already paying someone to help skim oil and perform other cleanup work, those wages will be subtracted from the amount they're eligible to claim from the fund.
Attorney Stephen Herman, one of two interim liaison counsel for cases pending in the eastern district of Louisiana before Judge Carl J. Barbier, told Truthout he has spoken with Feinberg and that this recent announcement contradicts an earlier statement made by BP, in which the company clearly said it would not do this.
A letter dated May 2, 2010, from Herman's firm, Herman, Herman, Katz & Cotlar LLP, in New Orleans, sent to Murray Greene in BP's Legal Department, asked Greene to confirm in writing that BP agreed to destroy voluntary waiver and release forms issued to response workers at a meeting in Venice, Louisiana, and stated:
"Lastly, we inquired as to BP's position with respect to any future claim of credit or set-off due to payments made to individuals who are assisting BP in mitigating its exposure to individuals and others for the unprecedented environmental and human losses as a result of this incident. It is our position that since my clients are effectively helping BP minimize its own future exposure as well as attempting to preserve the wetlands and the environment that BP ought not to seek any offset or reduction of claims as a result of any payments made to these individuals who courageously take on the dirty work of cleaning up BP's mess."
The next day, May 3, A.T. Chenault, a lawyer representing BP, responded in writing via letter stating, "We have no personal knowledge of the presentation of a Voluntary Waiver and Release to numerous people from Plaquemines Parish in Venice, Louisiana. However, it is the position of BP that any such documents will be rescinded and not binding on anyone signing same."
Chenault's letter concluded with a statement that directly contradicts Feinberg's recent announcement.
"Lastly, we confirm that BP will not offset payments to vessel owners or other volunteers against claims they might have," wrote Cheault, who is with the firm Fowler, Rodriguez, Valdes-Fauli.
Today, during a speech at the Economics Club in Washington, Feinberg appeared to be attempting to dissuade claimants from filing lawsuits against BP.
"You're crazy to do so, though," Feiberg said. "Because under this program, you will receive, if you're eligible, compensation without having to go to court for years, without the uncertainty of going to court, since I'll be much more generous than any court will be. And at the same time, you won't need to pay lawyers and costs."
The move is being seen by many as an attempt by Feinberg to sell the compensation fund to victims, so as to prevent more lawsuits against BP.
Herman told Truthout that he believes Feinberg has said things that "are not consistent," and that Feinberg "may not have been familiar" with the aforementioned agreement by BP to "not offset payments to vessel owners or other volunteers against claims they might have."
Herman, who has already met with Feinberg on several occasions, said he expects to meet up with Feinberg's law partner, Michael Rozen, "very soon."
Attorney Robert Wiygul in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, represents many fishermen involved in BP's oil response program, and told Truthout he "finds it very troubling" that BP and Feingold appear to be trying to position themselves to avoid future compensation claims from fishermen, as opposed to handling it on a year-to-year basis.