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In April 2010, this was the scene as crews battled the Deepwater Horizon oil rig blast. A federal appeals court has disagreed with BP’s point that the settlement has been misinterpreted to pay unworthy claims.

U.S. Coast Guard via New York Times,

Barry Labruzzo, a shrimper, says BP “has been giving me the runaround” during his claims process. Instead, BP says greedy lawyers and underhanded claimants are to blame for the slow process.

William Widmer • New York Times,

BP says its good intentions have been hijacked by greedy lawyers

  • Article by: Campbell Robertson and John Schwartz
  • New York Times
  • April 26, 2014 - 6:40 PM

– Four years ago the Deepwater Horizon oil rig caught fire and exploded, killing 11 men, spewing millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and staining, seemingly indelibly, the image of BP, the international energy giant responsible for the well.

Its reputation in free fall, the company set aside billions of dollars and saturated the airwaves with contrite pledges to make thousands of businesses and workers whole, from shrimpers to hotel owners to charter boat operators.

BP says cleanup is over

Four years on, BP is no longer on the defensive. In March, the federal government allowed the company, after a period of exile, to bid for oil and gas leases in the Gulf. On April 15, BP announced the end of active shoreline cleanup with so much fanfare that the U.S. Coast Guard quickly reassured the public that the operation was far from over.

In an op-ed article this month in Gulf Coast newspapers, John Mingé, the chairman of BP America, highlighted the coast’s record tourism numbers, emphasized the $27 billion BP had spent and dismissed environmentalists skeptical of the Gulf’s recovery as advocates using the spill “to raise money for their causes.”

But perhaps nothing has been as drastic as the company’s change in attitude toward the process it helped set up in 2012 to settle hundreds of thousands of economic damage claims. In full-page newspaper ads, interviews and a gusher of court filings, BP officials have insisted that their good intentions were being hijacked by greedy lawyers and underhanded claimants.

As hundreds of millions of dollars were spent on claims with no apparent connection at all to the spill — including a Florida escort service, a corporate law firm and businesses hundreds of miles from the Gulf — BP warned of a dangerous precedent.

Bad for America?

“I think there are really bad public policy ramifications to what’s happening to BP,” said Geoff Morrell, senior vice president for communications and government affairs at BP America, in his office in Washington. “It’s not just bad for this company that illegitimate, dubious claims are being paid to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars; it is bad for, dare I say, America.”

But opposing lawyers, many legal experts and even some federal judges have said BP is denouncing the legitimate outcomes of a deal that its top-notch legal team not only helped create, but also fought for and hailed. They point out that the aggressive public and legal campaign by BP, which essentially seeks to shift the attention away from BP and onto trial lawyers and claimants, took hold as estimates of the deal’s price tag began to soar and the company’s bargaining position improved.

While BP has won some arguments in court, its fundamental point — that the settlement has been brazenly misinterpreted to pay claims with no evidence linking them directly to the spill — was batted away in a recent decision in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“There is nothing fundamentally unreasonable about what BP accepted,” Judge Leslie Southwick wrote, “but now wishes it had not.”

Yet as the fight has slogged on in recent months, thousands of claims have been indefinitely delayed and new rules have been drawn up, while scrutiny of both individual claims and the overall process has intensified. Many on the Gulf are beginning to wonder if holding out for compensation is still worth the trouble.

© 2014 Star Tribune