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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. 

BP rig alarm system bypassed for a year claims engineer

A chief engineer on the doomed Deepwater Horizon drilling rig has told federal investigators that fire and gas-leak alarms had been turned off for at least a year because the platform’s managers didn’t want workers’ sleep disturbed by false alarms.

The alarm system could have alerted the crew to shut down the rig’s engines to prevent triggering an explosion of natural gas that had surged up from the mile-deep well, according to Mike Williams, the chief engineer tech who worked for rig owner Transocean, which was drilling for BP. He testified to a panel from the U.S. Coast Guard and the Interior Department.

He said: “I discovered it was ‘inhibited’ about a year ago, so I inquired. The explanation I got was that from the offshore installation manager down, they did not want people to wake up at 3 a.m. due to false alarm.”

Williams said he complained repeatedly, from six months to three days before the rig exploded April 20 and sank two days later, killing 11 workers and causing the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. He said the emergency shutdown system had problems previously.

If this allegation turns out to be true, such actions reveal a truly appalling sense of priority on the part of senior management. To bet the health and safety of the rig workers against the possibility of a disturbed night’s sleep counts as a staggering dereliction of the duty of care owed to employees. Oil rigs are dangerous places and when accidents happen they are invariably very serious indeed – that is why the industry’s health and safety standards have to be very high.

Bonnar & Company specialises in dangerous workplace accident claims. Our expert legal team can be contacted on FREEPHONE 0800 163 978.

Forgotten victims of Gulf oil rig disaster

Nearly two weeks after the tragedy, relatives of the men who died on the Deepwater Horizon plan private memorial services as the world choses to focus on the environmental impact of the worst oil spill in history.

The oil rig was positioned 50 miles south of the Louisiana coast and it is now the final resting place of the following 11 men who died in the explosion on 20th April 2010:

Aaron Dale Burkeen, 37, from Mississippi.

Karl Kleppinger Jr., 38, from Mississippi.

Dewey Revette, 48, from Mississippi.

Shane Roshto, 22, from Mississippi.

Roy Kemp, 27, from Louisiana.

Donald Clark, 49, from Louisiana.

Stephen Curtis, 40, from Louisiana.

Blair Manuel, 56, from Louisiana.

Gordon Jones, 29, from Louisiana.

Jason Anderson, 35, from Texas.

Adam Weise , 24, from Texas.

By any yardstick, loss of life on this scale is a major tragedy. We hope that the cause of the explosion is identified as quickly as possible and that health and safety lessons are learned and implemented throughout the oil and gas industry, in all regions of the world where drilling operations are proceeding. Operator safety should be of paramount importance in hazardous environments where workers have the right to expect the highest possible standards that their employers can achieve.