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BP to offer one-off payments if claimants waive right to sue

In the hope of drawing  a line under the crisis and in an attempt to quantify total costs, BP has announced its intention to cap its liabilities from the Gulf of Mexico disaster by offering those affected one-off compensation payouts in return for them waiving the right to sue.

Tens of thousands of affected people in the Gulf, particularly those in the fishing and tourism industries, are weeks away from bankruptcy but it is very difficult to calculate future lost earnings. There is also no way for claimants to know if they can expect more compensation if they sue BP in the courts…but that, of course, would appear to be the idea.

Ken Feinberg, who was appointed by the White House in June to administer the claims process on behalf of BP, will take charge within the next three weeks. BP has committed to pay $20bn into the fund in a series of instalments over the next three and a half years. When he takes over this month, for the first time claimants will be offered a one-off sum based on their future lost earnings, provided they agree not to sue BP as the company seeks to re-build its reputation.

“The fund will offer lump sum payments in return for an agreement not to pursue claims in court,” a spokeswoman said. Claimants will also be able to receive an emergency payout to cover their lost income for up to six months without waiving their right to sue BP. Claims from those directly affected by the spill, such as fishermen, will qualify but uncertainty surrounds those more indirectly affected. For example, many owners of beach apartments in Florida – even where no oil hit the shore – face bankruptcy because holidaymakers stayed away. It seems that a scheme designed to simplify and fast-track compensation payments may not be quite so simple after all.

In our view in its highly regrettable that the media spotlight continues to be targeted at the environmental cost of the oil spill whilst the 11 workers who died in the explosion receive scarcely a single reference by comparison. Let’s hope that the fate of the wrongful death and personal injury compensation claims on behalf of the victims’ families is monitored with the same level of scrutinty as the thousands of loss of earnings claims.