Gulf Coast residents, victimized in 2010 by BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster, are being victimized again, this time by trial lawyers exploiting a legal system ill-equipped to handle such calamities.
What started out just months after the spill as a sensible system to compensate injured people and businesses has turned into a fiasco. Some lawyers are already lined up to share in a jackpot of up to $600 million in fees. Others are busy ginning up claims, many of dubious merit. Businesses with no legitimate damages are collecting money. There are so many allegations of conflicts of interest that a former FBI director has been named to investigate.
This will have little immediate impact on the public. The money will come from BP, which merits no sympathy. Even so, the free-for-all sets a troubling precedent for victims of future disasters.
Two months after British Petroleum’s oil rig exploded — killing 11 men and spewing millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico — the oil giant, under pressure from the White House and stockholders, waived a $75 million cap on damages set by U.S. law, and vowed to set aside $20 billion to compensate victims.
Kenneth Feinberg, a mediator best known for successfully running the 9/11 victims’ compensation fund, was put in charge. In a year and a half, he had paid out $6.4 billion to 220,000 individuals. Though Feinberg inevitably became a magnet for critics on all sides, he was making a sincere effort to get money quickly to people who suffered the most, without enriching the undeserving.
A group of trial lawyers, who had filed thousands of claims against BP and were seeking a share of the billions, wanted no part of Feinberg’s operation. They reached their own deal with BP. Feinberg closed up shop. And the shenanigans began.
— Pensacola (Fla.) News Journal