The man who oversees the Deepwater Horizon claims process paid a visit last week to Apalachicola, as he rallied the local staff as part of his tour of 19 claimant assistance centers from South Florida to Texas.
“We have a lot of work left to do. It’s a job and we’re going to fulfill the job,” said Patrick Juneau, who was appointed in March 2012 by federal Judge Carl Barbier as claims administrator for the BP oil spill settlement process, which the court oversees.
“We’ve got a ways to go. But the mission’s never changed,” he said.
Juneau, a Lafayette, La., attorney who has served as court-appointed special master in several high-profile class action suits, including Vioxx, Toyota and Avandia, stopped by Sept. 24 to the claims office at the municipal complex at 194 14th Street, site of the former Apalachicola High School.
Juneau serves under the auspices of the Deepwater Horizon economic and property damage settlement, an $8 billion deal between BP and attorneys representing more than 100,000 individuals and businesses with claims against the company over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion.
Once the settlement was approved, the federal court in New Orleans relieved BP administrator Kenneth Feinberg of his duties as administrator of BP’s $20 billion compensation fund for victims of the spill. Feinberg had led the Gulf Coast Claims Facilities (GCCF), which processed about 221,300 claims, paying out $6 billion, before it was dissolved in June 2012.
The settlement that Juneau oversees is separate from the portion of the case that Barbier is now weighing, which is the amount of Clean Water Act fines that BP will be subject to. This could range from $1,100 for every barrel spilled through simple negligence to as much as $4,300 a barrel if the company is determined to have been grossly negligent.
The government is arguing that it was a matter of gross negligence and that 4.2 million barrels were spilled, which could mean fines of as much as $18 billion. BP contends simple negligence and that only 2.45 million barrels were spilled, making the total fines no more than $2.7 billion.
In an interview following his visit, Juneau outlined how the current claims process is intended to serve individuals and business who did not agree to a final settlement when the GCCF disbursed funds in the aftermath of the oil spill.
He said there is no cap on the amount of claims for the dozen categories of individuals and businesses that may be eligible, with the exception of those in the seafood industry. The cut-off date for those seafood-related claims, which have a cap of $2.3 billion, was Dec. 2012, after which no new claimants can come forward.
Juneau said that because the entire $2.3 billion cap was not exhausted in the first round of seafood industry payouts, there will be an upcoming second round of payouts to these same claimants until all this settlement money is spent.
He said there is no cap on the claims for these other businesses, such as individual businesses and coastal rental units, which are eligible to submit claims until April 22, 2014.
Nick Gagliano, who handles media relations for Juneau, said that as of Sept. 23, 2,156 claims had been filed in Franklin County, with 631 of these determined to be eligible, for a total of $18.34 million.
“For the difference there may be some (claims) that have not been reviewed, some may be incomplete where we are waiting on documents, and some may have been denied,” he said.
Statewide, 63,851 claims have been filed and 16,167 eligibility notices issued, for a total of nearly $1.08 billion. Overall, there have been 209,655 claims filed and 57,188 eligibility notices issued, totaling more than $4.76 billion, Gagliano said.