Payments for oyster harvesters increased under new GCCF guidelines

Alejandro de los Rios Aug. 25, 2011, 6:32am



The Gulf Coast Claims Facility recently unveiled new guidelines for anyone filing a claim in connection to the 2010 BP oil spill. Now, some oyster harvesters in Louisiana are eligible to receive seven times the sum of their losses due to the spill.

GCCF administrator Kenneth Feinberg on Tuesday released the one-year report on $20 billion fund for Gulf Coast residents. Feinberg reported over $5 billion had been paid out and noted "midcourse corrections" made by him and his firm in doling out payments.

Feinberg and the GCCF have come under fire from Gulf Coast attorneys general and plaintiff attorneys litigating the massive multi-district litigation (MDL) surrounding the BP oil spill.

Feinberg has worked closely with oyster harvesters to address their concerns stemming from the timing of the oil spill, which all but wiped out the 2010 harvest.

Oyster harvesters who fit certain criteria and can prove their losses could be eligible to receive anywhere from two times to seven times their net income from the 2008-2009 season.

Louisiana has received the second most GCCF funds of all the Gulf Coast states to date, with over 115,000 claimants receiving over $1.5 billion.

Florida – where 150,000 claimants received some $2 billion – leads all Gulf States in paid claims.

Feinberg's lawyers, New York City attorneys David Pitofsky and William Sheehan, responded to critics stating that the GCCF process "is working effectively" and that presiding District Judge Carl Barbier has no authority to intervene.

Hood's request for intervention is the latest in a long line of criticism launched at the GCCF by Gulf State attorneys general, governors and plaintiff lawyers.

The Plaintiff's Steering Committee (PSC) in the oil spill MDL has also made a request that Barbier intervene and appoint a special master to ensure it is in compliance with the Oil Pollution Act.

Louisiana attorney Danny Becnel opposed the PSC's motion, saying that the claims process "would become a free for all cash grab, however, if the plaintiff steering committee has its way."

In March, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange wrote a memo that said the GCCF payments "do not amount to much" and Alabama residents have been "reduced to begging for handouts from an organization ... whose primary missions seems to be turning them down."

Feinberg's attorneys fired back against critics who say the GCCF has given out too few payments since it was established.

"To date, in just nine months of operation, the GCCF has paid almost $4 billion to over 174,000 claimants in honoring approximately 300,000 claims," it states. "In the face of such overwhelming statistics, the [Mississippi] Attorney General's naked claims of malfeasance ... must be summarily dismissed."

In February, Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell and Governor Bobby Jindal filed a memo criticizing the GCCF with Barbier.

The memo criticized the GCCF for allegedly failing to comply with the Oil Pollution Act (OPA) and that claimants should not be required to relinquish their right to sue BP in exchange for a final payment.

The Louisiana legislature also expressed concern with the GCCF and has formed a special committee to oversee the claims process. 

In Florida state court, a marine salvage company filed a lawsuit against Feinberg and the GCCF alleging they committed negligence and fraud in the claims process.

Conversely, BP has criticized Feinberg and the GCCF for handing out payments that are too high and that there "is no credible support for adopting an artificially high future loss."

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