People living along Gulf of Mexico still recovering from BP oil spill

Thousands of people wait for day in court; claim oil spill cost them money

By Robert Arnold - Investigative Reporter

Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana - Despite five years of fines, settlements and criminal charges, the legal battle over the BP oil spill is far from complete. In 2010 an explosion on-board the Deepwater Horizon off shore drilling rig killed 11 people and led to the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

The spill also heavily impacted businesses and individuals who depend on the Gulf of Mexico and coastal areas for their livelihoods.

"Following year of the spill we saw a 20-percent decrease in total volume. The following year we saw another 20-percent," said Trey Pearson, general manager for JBS Packing in Port Arthur. "Last year we gained back about 12-percent."

Pearson manages a family owned seafood packing plant that is suing BP over the 2010 spill.

"It was difficult, our business is seasonal. We don't have a do over and there's no chance to come back and make up for lost time," said Pearson.

Pearson said the company decided to sue BP after receiving a $25,000 settlement offer to make up for lost revenue.

"It was very disappointing, it was very insulting," said Pearson.

Pearson is just one of thousands still waiting to have their case heard in federal court.

"The vast majority of those will never get a dime," said Houston attorney Brent Coon. "It was set up in a system to fail."

Coon represents Pearson and more than 8,000 other clients up and down the Gulf Coast. Coon said 5,000 of those cases are pending lawsuits. Coon said many of his clients opted to file suit rather than endure BP's on-going claims settlement process set up through the courts.

"They keep adjusting and refining the process of how to apply this settlement, but they always do it in manners that make it more frustrating to get paid," said Coon.

Houston attorney Anthony Buzbee represents another 2,000 clients who are waiting to have their case heard in court or settled through the claims process.

"There's people still struggling because of the spill," said Buzbee.  "We still have hotel owners, we still have restaurants, fisherman, shrimpers, oystermen."

Buzbee said even after five years his firm still has 25 employees dedicated to strictly handling claims against BP.

BP maintains it has been more than fair in paying and continuing to pay what the company terms legitimate claims. Some people have faced charges in federal court for filing false claims against the oil giant over the 2010 spill.

BP estimates it has already spent more $40 billion dollars to settle claims, respond to the spill, clean-up and restoration efforts and criminal penalties.

"Unfortunately, your sins this time far exceed the billions that you paid," said Coon.

In addition to the billions in fines and settlements already paid, BP is facing billions more in civil penalties from the federal government. This year a federal court judge ruled more than 3 million barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf. That number is lower than the federal government's 4.19 million barrel estimate, but higher than BP's 2.45 million barrel estimate.

A judge has not yet ruled how much BP will have to pay in civil penalties, but the company is facing a potential fine of more than $13 billion dollars. The company has stated that a fine over $2.3 billion could threaten its ability to continuing doing business in the U.S.

On Monday Channel 2 Investigates will examine the debate over quickly the Gulf Coast is recovering from this spill.

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