NEW ORLEANS — After six years of waiting their turn, individuals and businesses suing BP for damage caused by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill could be much closer to getting their day in court.
In March, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier for the Eastern District of Louisiana issued a pre-trial order calling on any claimant with economic or property damage claims against BP to file certain documents by May 16. The latest estimate puts the number of individual lawsuits in this class at 85,000.
“They run the gamut — everything from the little guy to big national companies,” Charles Herd, a maritime attorney in Houston who works for the Lanier Law Firm, told the Louisiana Record.
Herd represents approximately 250 claimants, from a South Louisiana waiter who lost work for a couple of weeks to a $72 million company that allegedly went out of business as a result of canceled orders after the spill.
The mass of litigation still to be considered is often forgotten amid news of BP’s $20 billion settlement with the government, he said. His clients call, wondering what’s going on and why their case isn’t getting any attention as they continue to fall behind on bills, unable to recover from their losses.
“That’s not $20 billion that goes to regular people,” Herd said. “Now that some of those conceptually big issues are resolved, the court is turning its attention to what it probably considers more mundane matters but that are critically important to 80-plus thousand people.”
Barbier hasn’t said how he’ll handle the mass of litigation in front of him. Herd said the judge will have to decide how to categorize or group cases, and whether to handle them himself or send them back to the court in which they were originally filed. He expects the decision will involve a combination of those options, but it could still be three to six months before that’s determined.
“I think what the judge wants to do is get his hands around the universe of these claims, and that’s the reason he’s instructed everyone to resolve their claims or withdraw or get a separate lawsuit on file so he will know exactly what universe he’s dealing with and will have a distinct cause number ... for each of those claimants,” Herd said. “He’s trying to work through it as methodically as he can.”
Herd said he encourages his clients to tread water a little longer because, while there’s no definitive timeline, it looks like the court is readying itself to tackle their cases.
“For some of these families, you can’t overemphasize how much of a strain this has been,” Herd said. “Finally we’re on the cusp of getting there."