BP sets up health claims process

Re­dress eyed for spill-linked ill­ness

The Washington Times Daily - - Business - BY CAIN BUR­DEAU

BOOTHEVILLE, LA. | A set­tle­ment that BP is ham­mer­ing out with vic­tims of the mas­sive Gulf of Mex­ico oil spill fi­nally pro­vides a sys­tem for mon­i­tor­ing health con­cerns and com­pen­sat­ing peo­ple whose ill­nesses are found to have a link to the dis­as­ter.

Gov­ern­ment and univer­sity doc­tors study­ing lo­cals’ health haven’t found sig­nif­i­cant ev­i­dence of spill-re­lated ill­nesses, but prob­lems years from now re­main a ques­tion mark. Gulf Coast res­i­dents say they’re happy their com­plaints are get­ting a se­ri­ous look, even if they’ll face hur­dles in prov­ing that rashes, short­ness of breath and other mal­adies were caused by the oil or chem­i­cal dis­per­sants sprayed to break it up.

Un­der the set­tle­ment an­nounced Fri­day, BP said it ex­pects to pay out $7.8 bil­lion to set­tle a wide range of claims that also in­clude prop­erty dam­age, lost wages and loss to busi­nesses. While a pre­vi­ously cre­ated fund had al­ready been pay­ing such eco­nomic loss claims, it hadn’t paid claims over ill­nesses re­lated to ex­po­sure.

Ni­cole Maurer, a res­i­dent of this fish­ing com­mu­nity, said she feels op­ti­mistic about get­ting med­i­cal bills paid un­der the court-su­per­vised process. She blames the spill for a num­ber of her fam­ily’s health prob­lems.

“Bright and early, I’m get­ting my kids on the school bus and call­ing my lawyer to­mor­row, and see what’s go­ing on,” she said Sun­day. “I’m be­ing very hopeful and that it all works out in our fa­vor.”

First, Ms. Maurer and oth­ers like her will have to show that they got sick from the spill. To re­ceive com­pen­sa­tion, claimants will be ex­am­ined by a court-ap­proved health care prac­ti­tioner. Then, a claims ad­min­is­tra­tor work­ing un­der the su­per­vi­sion of a fed­eral judge will de­ter­mine who should be paid.

“The work­ers have a dif­fer­ent kind of ex­po­sure be­cause they were there all the time, but any­body liv­ing in an area where they were at risk of ex­po­sure will be el­i­gi­ble to par­tic­i­pate in the pro­gram,” said Ervin Gon­za­lez, one the plain­tiff lawyers lead­ing the lit­i­ga­tion.

The set­tle­ment also es­tab­lishes a pro­gram to mon­i­tor claimants’ health for a pe­riod of 21 years. Peo­ple whose phys­i­cal symp­toms haven’t yet de­vel­oped will also be able to pur­sue claims. BP has also promised to pay $105 mil­lion to im­prove health care around the Gulf re­gion.

“You don’t know what the longterm [health] ef­fects will be,” said an­other of the plain­tiffs’ lawyers, Steve Her­man. “You don’t know how the sci­ence is go­ing to play out.”

Mr. Her­man said med­i­cal claims won’t be paid un­til U.S. Dis­trict Judge Carl Bar­bier gives final ap­proval to the over­all set­tle­ment, which could take months.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Shrimp boats sit docked April 30, 2010, in Venice, La., near the mouth of the Mis­sis­sippi River and the Gulf of Mex­ico, 10 days af­ter the oil-rig ex­plo­sion that trig­gered a mas­sive oil spill in the Gulf. BP will com­pen­sate claimants who can prove they got sick from the spill.

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