Mediating the Aftermath of the BP Oil Spill
Available 24 Hours a Day. 7 Days a Week
The Deepwater Horizon oil well beneath the Gulf of Mexico may now be securely capped, and the potential for further environmental and economic damage may have diminished. But the process of resolving civil claims for anyone whose livelihood was harmed by the disaster has just begun.
Attorney Kenneth Feinberg was recently appointed by President Obama to administer the $20 billion fund established by BP to provide compensation for fishermen, resort owners, boat operators and other parties who sustained damages due to the millions of barrels of crude oil that spewed into gulf waters and soiled its shores. Feinberg’s list of similar accomplishments is impressive: special master of the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund, mediator of a class action by Vietnam veterans over the chemical Agent Orange, and service as Obama’s “Pay Czar” to monitor executive compensation at companies that received federal bailouts.
Any party who has a claim against the oil company has a variety of options to consider, including litigation in an appropriate state or federal court. But the massive fund set up by BP pursuant to an executive order provides an expedient choice for claimants who are seeking a rapid solution.
BP’s Independent Claims Facility is set up to provide compensation for a variety of losses, including damage to property, net loss of profits and earning capacity, natural resource damage, cleanup costs, and costs or losses sustained by government entities. In some cases, the extent of damages is immediately apparent, but in others – such as a shrimp processor that is idled for the summer and faces future seasons of uncertainty – the claim may involve predictions of economic losses. Claims that are of large monetary value or are based on complex factors will be handled separately.
An effective mediator must be able to convince participants of the benefits of compromise. It may be better to settle for immediate compensation than to undergo the costs, duration and uncertainty of a lawsuit. The BP mediation process, like most alternative dispute resolution processes, allows for the participation of counsel on behalf of aggrieved parties. To help them best assess their legal options and prospects for recovery, many claimants will benefit from enlisting an experienced trial lawyer to represent their interests before moving ahead.