Lawyers & Judge Upbeat at BP Settlement Fairness Hearing
Tom YoungNovember 08, 2012 3:33 PM
Much to the disappointment of the handful of objectors to the historic BP Deepwater Horizon Settlement Agreement, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier and lawyers for both BP and plaintiffs seemed upbeat and positive at this morning's Fairness Hearing in New Orleans. In an atmosphere far from antagonistic, both sides praised the other about the professionalism with which the parties negotiated the at least $7.8 billion settlement agreement.
"After nine months and one day of robust and sometimes heated negotiations where we met 145 times face-to-face, BP believes that this settlement is unlike any other in the history of the United States, and we believe it to be good for our system of justice." BP lead attorney Rick Godfrey told the court. "BP has no intention of having justice delayed for those with legitimate claims" he continued.
The Fairness Hearing, common in class action settlement proceedings, is designed to allow those with objections or concerns about the merits of a settlement to air their grievances. The few objectors who spoke seemed to stand on very weak legal ground. Many of their arguments had been previously dismissed by Judge Barbier's rulings, and others had no basis in law.
As if anticipating the objectors' positions, both BP and lawyers for the plaintiffs engaged some the the country's leading authorities on ethics and class action protocol in support of the agreement. Professor John Coffee of Columbia University filed papers with the court stating "this settlement represents the exact kind of outcome our laws are designed to effectuate and it stands apart from the vast majority of other class action settlements. In fact, this class action settlement is superior, and if it were not certified by the court, it would be a social tragedy." To which BP's Godfrey added "BP could not agree with Professor Coffee more strongly, as this settlement has been vouched for by the Nation's leading legal and ethical experts."
During the hearing, settlement Claims Administrator Patrick Juneau announced that the claims facility has received 79,008 claims from 62,000 claimants to-date, with that number growing dramatically each day. Of those, over 36,000 claims have been approved for over $1.3 billion with approximately 95% of those claimants accepting offers made by Juneau's team.
As if to reiterate the point that this is not a contentious process, Jim Roy, a lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said "this is a claimant friendly process. The opposite of what one might expect to experience with an insurance adjuster who is trying to minimize his losses. Under this system, the Claims Administrator is mandated to do everything he can to maximize the value of a claimant's filing. In the typical lawsuit, just the opposite is true. The success of this program to-date is unheard of.
In other news, BP's Godfrey also informed the court that the oil company will waive its right to scuttle the settlement based on opt out submissions.