BP sets up health claims process
Redress eyed for spill-linked illness
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.
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.