People who try to sue BP for damages will find the company’s wallet shut to them. BP can deny claims while people are suing them. The state is asking everyone to work with the company to get claims paid now, because they’ll have three years to make up their mind about a suit even if they’re taking the company’s money.
BP has paid 17 million dollars to Floridians whose businesses have suffered because of the gulf oil leak, but some people worry about the company’s willingness to keep paying.
Thomas Ruppert, with Sea Grant Florida, says lawyers are cashing in on those fears, holding town hall meetings to build lawsuits.
“Unfortunately what a lot of these people in the meetings get is a real sense of fear about their need to act urgently in order to make claims or jump on the bandwagon for a lawsuit against BP.”
But if people think they are being treated unfairly and sue BP, then the company can hold back their claims until a judge rules.
And that could take years according to Bob Butterworth, a former Attorney General and member of the state’s legal council in charge of keeping BP honest.
“They can pay a lawyer 10, 20, or 30, or 40% which could also keep you tied up in court for maybe ten years and 20 years later, there’s still claims out there.”
BP is putting 20 billion dollars in a claims fund to help speed up the process. Wednesday BP Vice President of Resources Darryl Willis told state and business leaders the company hopes the fund will help avoid litigation.
“My hope is that we can get a lot of it done with the money that’s been allocated inside of the fund.”
But many wonder if 20 billion will be enough to pay all the claims. Willis says if the fund runs dry they’ll cough up even more cash.
It’s not just fishermen and business owners who are holding off on filing a claim. The state is as well. Florida’s Attorney General Bill McCollum is hoping Florida can be reimbursed without a lawsuit but he’s keeping his options open.