In a move that should not surprise any of our readers, BP has now declared war on the seafood settlement. Originally, the Program was lauded as a $2.3 billion fund set aside solely for seafood harvesters who, by all accounts, represent the most sensitive economic victims of BP’s bad acts. The fund constituted a guaranteed payment by BP to the seafood harvesting industry. There was a provision in the agreement that covered any money that remained in the fund after a first round of payments. In that event, a court-appointed neutral would exhaust the remainder of the fund through a second round of payments to claimants.
BP claims that former Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee (PSC) member Mikal Watts defrauded the company when Watts allegedly claimed to represent 40,000 Vietnamese deckhands, whom Watts believed would ultimately seek compensation in the seafood program. Resolution of these deckhand claims and “reasonable” reliance on Watt’s representations, BP claims, was a cornerstone to the company reaching a seafood harvesting settlement with the PSC.
Predictably, like other attempts BP has made to renege on its promises, the company’s latest attempt to subvert the settlement agreement is simply not supported by the facts. First of all, BP’s efforts completely contradict its suggestions to the Court and to the public. BP stated that the seafood fund was based on average pounds and value of seafood caught in the Gulf of Mexico for a period of the benchmark years. Nowhere did the company ever reference an expectation of whether a block of seafood harvesters would choose to remain in the settlement as a basis for calculating the fund.
BP certainly wasn’t caught off guard about the issues with Mr. Watts’ client base as the company seems to suggest. In fact, BP sent a letter to the PSC expressing concern about the very issues the company complains of before a settlement was ever reached. Moreover, a discussion of Watts’ clients was not relegated to pre-settlement talks. A major national news publication was openly writing articles that expressed concerns about the Watts’ clients well before the seafood settlement was brokered, and BP had all of the available information about Watts’ client base by way of the Short Form Joinders Watts filed with the Court. Even assuming the worst, BP’s “reliance” on Watts’ deckhand client base information to formulate a global seafood settlement makes no sense. Deckhand claims are on average the smallest claims in the entire Seafood Compensation Program. For BP to claim that 2 percent of the seafood fund (assuming the worst) was the basis for settling seafood claims is beyond illogical.
It’s quite obvious that BP’s latest ploy is really part of its continuing two-pronged effort we have all come to know and expect. On one hand, the company is simply attacking another part of the settlement to continue its overall smear campaign in hopes that the public and the court system will allow it to evade responsibility. On the other is the fact that seafood harvesters who chose to settle with BP, based on the company’s representation of a guaranteed second distribution if seafood funds were not exhausted, are locked into the settlement.
BP, as it has done from the beginning, makes grand promises in order to get releases of liability. But as soon as the company acquires the release (which occurs on the front end before the second distribution occurs), it quickly moves to renege on the deal based on some manufactured argument. I am confident that BP’s efforts to change the settlement agreement and shortchange the seafood industry will fail. At some point, I suspect the courts at every level will say “enough is enough” to BP and put an end to the company’s playing fast and loose with the judicial system.
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