I’ve spoken with a couple of individuals and businesspeople recently who said that filing a BP claim might be wrong, and that they have seen on the news that one of the claims adjuster’s lawyers committed fraud. It’s a “one bad apple” scenario, but enough to support BP’s media campaign to scare off potential claimants from filing.
While in another discussion regarding the BP settlement in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, I heard about the letter Bobo Cunningham wrote to to the editor of a local paper concerning the settlement BP agreed to pay. Mr. Cunningham’s letter was apparently prompted by a letter BP’s lawyers were disseminating to lawyers and individuals who filed claims under the settlement. BP was threatening lawsuits against everyone filing claims, and promised plaintiff lawyers it would sue to take back money firms were paying their clients out of the claims proceeds BP set aside for such purpose. Though written by BP’s lawyers, the blustering and posturing letter was like its arguments before the trial court, a propaganda campaign entirely without merit.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently heard BP’s appeal seeking to stop payment of claims under the settlement it both authored and agreed to, which the trial court judge has repeatedly refused to do. Prior to that, New Orleans’ Judge Barbier had denied BP’s motion for an injunction without a written opinion, but said in open court that he was offended by BP’s personal attack on the lawyer administering the claims process.
The main problem underlying the position BP has taken recently is that they agreed to the ambiguous language in the settlement that governs the accountancy principles used to calculate claims. I’ve written about ambiguity in contracts before, because it is important to know that allowing any ambiguity in a contract when drafting it can lead to unanticipated and undesired results. BP and its legal team knew better. Had BP wanted the claims paid in a different manner, with different accounting processes, the time to make that known was during the drafting period, not after thousands of claims have been paid. You can’t unring that bell, and there is no law that says BP can renege on their settlement agreement and reclaim moneys paid under it for valid claims. BP is betting on the public’s ignorance of that fact to stymie recovery.