Barbier boils down plaintiff steering committee's claim notice

Steve Korris Mar. 8, 2011, 12:44pm


U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier pulled the punches from a public notice his plaintiff steering committee composed about the Deepwater Horizon explosion.

A notice he approved on Feb. 23, announcing an April 20 deadline for claims against rig owner Transocean, bore faint resemblance to the committee's version.

The committee tried to turn a notice about Transocean into an advertisement for lawsuits against oil company BP, but Barbier lowered BP's profile and squelched the solicitation.

The looming deadline applies only to Transocean, which holds a unique position in oil spill litigation as owner of the sunken vessel.

Transocean has petitioned for exoneration under the Limitation of Liability Act, which caps an owner's damages at the value of the vessel.

Barbier must resolve Transocean's liability before resolving liabilities of BP and others, and he plans to hold trial for Transocean next February.

The steering committee submitted a notice on Feb. 8, and moved to publish it.

The headline announced, "To protect your right to recover money and other damages against Transocean, you must act by April 20, 2011."

Barbier deleted "and other," to cut off claims of non economic damages.

Instead of "you must act by April 20," he wrote, "the filing deadline is April 20."

The committee wrote that a reader with personal injury, loss of earnings, property damage, or business loss can participate.

Barbier wrote that such a reader may be able to participate.

The committee wrote, "You need to file a claim form by April 20, 2011."

Barbier wrote, "In order to preserve your right to recover against Transocean you need to file an answer and claim by April 20, 2011."

He wrote that he approved a "Direct Filing Short Form," and he substituted Short Form wherever plaintiffs called it a claim form.

The committee wrote that filing a claim "will also join you in the master lawsuit that has been filed against BP and the other defendants."

Barbier wrote that filing a Short Form "may also join you" in the master suit.

He inserted, "You are not required to use the Short Form."

The committee wrote that a reader who doesn't want to join the master suit still needs to file an answer and claim by April 20, to preserve the right to recover against Transocean.

Barbier scratched that and wrote, "The deadline for claims against Transocean whether you use the short form or not is April 20, 2011."

The committee wrote that a lawyer isn't required to file a claim form, adding that anyone who would like advice about his legal rights or filing a form "must contact a lawyer."

Barbier changed it to, "should contact a lawyer."

The committee wrote in bold face, "You can continue to file claims with BP's Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF)."

Barbier deleted BP and wrote, "Filing with the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF) is not the same as filing in court."

The committee wrote, "You can participate in the federal lawsuit even if you already filed a claim with BP's GCCF."

Barbier again changed "can participate" to "may be able to participate," and again deleted BP.

The committee wrote, "Filing the claim form will not prevent you from recovering money through BP's GCCF."

Barbier deleted the sentence.

The committee wrote that there might be other requirements for suing BP and others, and Barbier copied the sentence.

"You may, for example, have to fulfill presentment requirements of the Oil Pollution Act. If you are not sure what this means, you should consult with a lawyer," the committee wrote.

Barbier boiled it down to, "If you have questions you should consult a lawyer."

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