As we have reported, the fairness hearing for the oil spill settlements occurred on November 8, 2012, and based on all indications, the settlements received very high marks. While the parties had already provided significant briefing to the court in support of the settlements, Judge Barbier heard hours of arguments from the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee, BP and claims administrator Pat Juneau in support of the settlements. In all fairness hearings, the essential question is whether the settlements are fair, reasonable and adequate to class members.
Based on the testimony and evidence offered to the court, the settlements appeared to make a very favorable impression. Most, if not all, class action settlements do not have a fully-functioning claims facility before the fairness hearing, and rarely, if ever, are class members actually paid before the fairness hearing occurs. In the case of the oil spill settlements, claims facilities have been functioning for months, and Economic Settlement administrator Pat Juneau reported that the Economic Settlement had already paid, or was in the process of paying, nearly $1.3 billion in compensation to class members. More importantly, 95% of claimants were agreeable to offers made by the claims facility, which is an astonishing statistic given how young the facility is and the complex nature of the claimants along the Gulf Coast.
As expected, a settlement this large and complex was not without objectors. However, Judge Barbier pointed out that a vast majority of objectors was limited to a handful of law firms that objected on behalf of a large portion of their clients. Statistics offered by the parties during the hearing further emphasized the point, as objectors (and opt-outs) were dwarfed by the vast number of participating class members. In fact, representatives from BP noted that the number of opt-outs and objectors was well below expected projections.
Based on the evidence offered by the parties and the settlement’s accomplishments thus far, there is no debating that this settlement may go down as one of the best ever. The settlement is paying businesses throughout the coastal states significant and meaningful compensation – many of which never had a chance at compensation in the Gulf Coast Claims Facility. Moreover, traditional legal hurdles such as pure causation and strict proof requirements have been lessened significantly and replaced with a transparent, claimant-friendly process.
Judge Barbier is currently considering all of the parties’ arguments and briefings, and we expect him to rule on granting final approval to the settlements very soon. Based on the evidence offered to the court, we feel very confident that Judge Barbier will grant final approval and the settlements will go forward. If you have any questions about the settlements, please contact Parker Miller, a lawyer in our firm who has been involved in the BP litigation from the outset, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Parker.Miller@beasleyallen.com.
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