The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

June 26, 2013

BP mounts offensive in spill settlement dispute

(Continued)

Barbier appointed Lafayette-based attorney Patrick Juneau to administer the settlement program. BP PLC has accused Juneau of trying to rewrite the terms of the settlement and claims he has made decisions that expose the company to what could be billions of dollars in fictitious claims.

But the judge upheld the claims administrator's interpretation of settlement terms that govern how businesses' pre- and post-spill revenue and expenses — and the time periods for those dollar amounts — are used to calculate their awards.

In the letter to plaintiffs' attorneys, BP says it expects Juneau will "fulfill his fiduciary duties by seeking to recover all excessive claims payments" if the company prevails in its appeal.

"BP further notifies you that it also reserves any rights it may have to recover funds from the attorneys of claimants in the event of reversal, if those attorneys have a contingent-fee interest in the payment of the Claim," the letter says.

Plaintiffs' attorneys have said the payments to businesses were clearly spelled out in the agreement. They claim BP simply undervalued the settlement and underestimated how many claimants would qualify for payments.

They also asserted in a filing last month that BP had pointed to "four examples out of more than 40,000 filed claims that it hopes will shock this Court," and then relied on its own experts to claim "mistakes" or "overpayments."

The judge's ruling has not deterred BP.

Last week, BP called for an independent investigation of alleged misconduct by an attorney who worked on Juneau's staff. The lawyer, Lionel H. Sutton III, resigned last Friday — a day after Juneau delivered a report to Barbier that outlined the allegations.

A law firm allegedly paid Sutton a portion of settlement proceeds from claims he referred to the firm before he went to work for Juneau. In a statement, BP said only a "comprehensive and independent investigation" of the allegations involving Sutton will ensure the "integrity" of the claims process.

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