BP’s Attorneys ‘Checking with the Client’

NEW ORLEANS – Plaintiff attorneys have been assuming that BP would not cite the $75MM OPA liability cap for claims arising from the Deepwater Horizon disaster.  But when the issue of the cap was raised during Friday’s MDL hearing, the matter was suddenly up in the air.

According to plaintiff attorney Ervin A. Gonzalez, BP’s attorneys told Judge Carl J. Barbier that they would have to check with BP to see whether their client intended to rely on the cap.  The judge gave the defense attorneys seven days to file a written statement on their position.  Gonzalez is with Colson, Hicks, Eidson, Colson, Cooper, Matthews, Martinez, Gonzalez, Kalbac & Kane of Coral Gables, Fla.

When the issue of whether a claim filed with the compensation fund would be considered “presentment” under OPA, BP’s attorneys again said they would need to discuss the question with their client.   Again, the judge gave BP’s attorneys seven days, which means this Friday, Oct. 22, to provide a written position.

Beasley Allen’s Rhon Jones said BP’s attorneys’ comments on the liability cap came as “a complete surprise.”  Given the amount BP has paid so far – $1.4BB – and based on public statements, legal observers did not think BP would seek protection from the cap.  Assuming it meets the judge’s seven-day deadline BP will make its intentions clear on Friday.

In other developments at the hearing, Judge Barbier turned down BP’s request to move trial dates.   “The court seems inclined to set OPA test cases for damages only against BP in the summer of 2011,” Jones said.  “The limitations and liability as to all defendants remained set for February 2012.”

As for whether claimants are being paid by BP, Gonzales said the feelings among claimants are mixed.  “A lot haven’t been paid, a lot feel they’ve been underpaid, a lot aren’t happy with all the rigmarole they have to go through [in filing claims] and some are happy,” he said.   BP’s attorneys said that due to missing information 61,000 claims remain pending.

Both Jones and Gonzalez are speaking at HB’s Oil in the Gulf: Litigation & Insurance Coverage Conference Nov. 4-5, 2010, in Miami.  CLICK HERE for more information.