Legal teams for Deepwater Horizon plaintiffs bill for 527,000 hours of work

By Erik Derr | Aug 18, 2016

NEW ORLEANS – Attorneys for the plaintiffs steering committee (PSC) in the multidistrict class-action litigation over the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill have asked the presiding judge to approve $600 million in attorney and common plaintiff benefit fees, saying the reimbursement is warranted given the case's staggering scope and complexity.

When BP and the other companies involved in the case agreed to settle the related claims for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, the terms included a $600 million cap for attorney fees and expenses. As such, the 107 law firms that make up the PSC detailed in a court petition filed last month how much work they've have done on the case.

According to the fee petition filed with U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier and Magistrate Judge Sally Shushan, the PSC's members, co-liaison counsel and 88 additional common benefit law firms invested more than 527,000 hours, more than 60 years collectively; and provided approximately $45 million to plaintiffs and other interests impacted by the April 2010 accident, which killed 11 rig workers and released millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

The requested $555 million fee award comes to 6.59 percent of the benefits paid so far under BP class settlements and 4.25 percent of the estimated economic and medical payouts, the filing read.

The PSC's clients comprise approximately 130,000 individuals, businesses and governmental entities that opted to participate in the multidistrict litigation instead of pursuing individual claims on their own.

“With just over a year from the formation of the MDL to complete all discovery and otherwise prepare for a massive two-phase comprehensive liability trial, dozens of common benefit attorneys essentially gave up their entire practices to live and work in New Orleans on exclusively the Deepwater Horizon Litigation from (at least) the end of 2010 through (at least) the end of the Phase One Trial in April of 2013, and in many cases through the end of the Phase Two Trial in October of 2013 (and beyond)," the petition stated.

The petition explains at great length the fees attorneys are seeking, though it's unlikely BP or any of the other companies will challenge them, since they didn't exceed the $600 million ceiling the parties previously accepted.

“The relief provided under the BP Class Settlements has already been fully and finally approved as 'fair, reasonable, and adequate' to the members of each class, and the BP defendants have agreed not to contest or oppose the requested approval and award of common benefit cost reimbursements and/or fees in the amounts sought herein,” the petition stated.

The settlement capped attorney contingency fees for individual claims at 25 percent, while Barbier has stated lawyers are able to ask for less, especially for simple claims.

The plaintiffs' attorneys tackled competing federal and state legal processes, and worked with state and federal officials, the petition said. The legal teams also had to navigate through environmental and maritime law, and oversee more than 130,000 businesses, government entities and individuals that joined the litigation.

Then, not only were the involved attorneys tasked with negotiating multi-billion settlements, but they also defended those agreements from efforts by BP to alter the assigned terms or withhold payments, the petition explained.

Out of the $600 million requested, according to the filing, $555.2 million would be paid to class counsel and common benefit attorneys, with the remainder earmarked for shared expenses, already paid back by common benefit attorneys or forwarded to third-party service providers, along with certain claimed expenses.

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