When the deep water horizon sank on April 22, it broke all of the infrastructure below the sea and unleashed the world’s “worst environmental contamination disaster,” and brought oil from the Macondo Well into the ocean, says attorney Ronnie Penton of the Penton Law Firm in Belagusa, Louisiana. When the infrastructure broke loose, it unleashed millions of gallons of crude oil into the ocean, which over the months migrated into the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. As a result, a coordinated response was put together by the U.S. government and BP to try to lessen the impact to the ecology of the sea and its life, all of which resulted in a lawsuit and eventual settlement. Mr. Penton points out that this is just a partial settlement, as thousands of claims still remain in the system.
Attorney Rick Kuykendall, of the Murphy Law Group, says that there will be a hearing in New Orleans on November 8 on the fairness of the current proposed settlement. “The issue for the court will be if the settlement was fair, adequate and reasonable for applicable legal standards,” says Mr. Kuykendall. The judge for the hearing has decided that the hearing will be very strictly conducted, with no oral hearings from witnesses and strict time limits will be imposed on counsel arguments.
With the exception of the state of Louisiana, Mr. Penton says that all other wetland owners have been excluded from the settlement, adding that wetlands in Louisiana are allowed to collect compensation for the impact of this crude oil to their environment. “Magically, BP has negotiated a settlement whereby at the Pearl River, which is the dividing river between Louisiana and Mississippi, they are going to stop paying wetlands eastward of the Pearl River and will be paying minimal amounts of money to the wetlands owners in other states,” says Mr. Penton.
As a result, Mr. Kuykendall and Mr. Penton have filed a class action lawsuit to protect all of the wetlands and owners in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, which is about a million and a half acres of designated wetlands. What they discovered, says Mr. Kuykendall, is that the process the government used to gather the data, which BP used to negotiate the class action, was flawed in some very important ways. He says they have photos from the site of the spill all over the properties they have filed this claim for. Mr. Kuykendall cites an example where a property owner in Alabama gets about $100,000 for a claim and in Louisiana, the property owner would get about $8 million, which is a substantial difference.
Mr. Kuykendall and Mr. Penton have formally objected to the data collection process and while the court hasn’t disposed of their objections, BP has opposed them and they should hear about this after the November 8 hearing.
Some parties have been excluded from the class action by definition, to include people in the insurance business, people in the financial industry, gaming (casino) people, government entities and BP employees. Mr. Kuykendall points out that just because these groups were excluded from the settlement, doesn’t mean they don’t have a claim. He stresses the very important time limitations that apply to these excluded claims, which he believes will be April 20, 2013. As one would have to present the claim to the court 90 days in advance of when they would want to file the case, January 20, 2013 would be the deadline for that.
Both Mr. Kuykendall and Mr. Penton say that it is hard to overstate the coverage of potential claims and they encourage any business or person to look into filing a claim. As this is a partial settlement, there are many, many claims that can be brought against BP and they all really need to be looked into.
Frederick T. Kuykendall III, of counsel to Farrell & Patel, P.A., is licensed to practice in Alabama, as well as before the United States Supreme Court Northern, Middle, and Southern Districts, and the third, fifth, and eleventh circuit courts of the United States. He is currently a strategic counsel to Murphy, Falcon and Murphy PA, in Baltimore, Md., and the founding member of The Law Offices of Frederick T. Kuykendall III, in Mobile, Ala. Ronnie Penton is with the Penton Law Firm in Belagusa, Louisiana. Both Mr. Kuykendall and Mr. Penton are featured commentators with The Legal Broadcast Network, providing on-demand legal video content.