People hurt by the Gulf oil spill can’t sue BP until after they take their claim to the oil company’s $20 billion escrow fund, BP argued in a court memo filed yesterday.
BP’s lawyers say the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 requires victims to bring their claims directly to the responsible party first. In this case, BP says, that’s the escrow fund funded by BP and administered by Kenneth Feinberg.
The Act, which is the same law that says the leaser of the well is responsible for damages, bears this out. The law directs claimants to go to the responsible party first. If they are denied, or if they don’t get paid within 90 days, they can sue.
“Pending resolution of this fundamental legal issue, the plaintiffs making OPA claims (and
others seeking economic damages) have no right to be in court at all, much less to use the courts to be making sweeping discovery demands,” BP wrote, in response to the plaintiff’s request to start the discovery period right away. Some 400 plaintiffs are suing in a New Orleans federal court.
In other words, victims cannot sue BP until they are denied by the escrow fund. They also cannot sue BP if they are approved by the fund and get a final settlement — a provision suggested by Feinberg.
Feinberg is also of the opinion that if a claim is denied by him, it’ll probably be denied by a judge.
“I take the position, if I don’t find you eligible, no court will find you eligible,” he said last month.
Also related to the suit, the Justice Department said today it is expecting to sue BP, and asked the judge handling the case to separate government claims from private claims.