Cleanup workers and coastal residents who were exposed to crude oil and chemical dispersants from BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill may be forced into the same kind of protracted litigation that prevented Exxon Valdez cleanup workers from getting medical assistance and relief from doctor’s bills.
Some 20,000 Gulf coast residents and cleanup workers, many of them suffering from chronic health problems that manifested several months after their exposure to the oil and other contaminants, are part of a medical damages settlement class, but find themselves in a legal limbo thanks to, as WWL-TV reported, “a disputed reading of one phase buried in an agreement more [than] 1,000 pages long.”
According to the settlement, any claimant suffering from a chronic oil-spill related condition must have had that condition diagnosed properly by a physician before April 16, 2012, that date that the settlement agreement between BP and plaintiffs’ lawyers was approved by the court.
U.S. District judge Carl Barbier, who is overseeing the sprawling BP oil spill litigation in New Orleans, originally backed BP’s interpretation of the agreement. He is now reconsidering, knowing that such a reading would boot most of the medical class claimants into years, even decades, of costly litigation that the settlement agreement was designed to avoid.
BP argues that any cleanup worker or resident suffering from the chronic conditions covered by the settlement would have certainly seen a doctor between April 20, 2010, the day the Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank, and April 16, 2012, the diagnosis deadline.
“But Barbier was skeptical,” WWL-TV reported, “noting that most of the cleanup workers were likely uninsured and would not have an easy time paying for a doctor’s visit.”
One worker WWL-TV interviewed developed chronic dermatitis and lesions that flare up every month. That condition would qualify him for a $60,700 payment – the maximum for a chronic condition under the settlement – but he was diagnosed too late. He now has to wait until his individual case can be litigated. And, if BP exercises the legal strategies and appeals Exxon used against medical claimants in the Valdez litigation, many individuals physically harmed by the oil spill may never be compensated.
According the latest quarterly report on BP oil spill medical claims, of the 11,000 individual who have filed for medical claims, just 70 had been paid from April 16, 2012 through August 8, 2014. WWL-TV’s further investigation into the matter found that just one additional medical claim has been paid in the two months since the last report.