NEW ORLEANS — A federal judge recently decided to allow claimants with unpaid claims stemming from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the six-month federal drilling stoppage after the spill to take their cases to court.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier's March 17 decision came nearly seven years after the spill, which spewed 4.9 million barrels into the Gulf of Mexico, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

"There are a lot of different litigations, but in class-action litigation, [attorneys] get the class certified, and then those claims, in this particular instance, were resolved through a settlement," Bill Goodell, an environmental law professor at Tulane University, told the Louisiana Record. "And, pending resolution of those class claims, it's not uncommon for the court to allow or have the individual private claimants who opt out of the class, as they say, to litigate their claims after class issues are resolved."

Goodell said the class-action settlement in the case equated to a set dollar amount for the class.

"[T]here was a mechanism in place for people to submit their claims and have them paid," Goodell said. "And a lot of those have gone through the process. There are other people, and for whatever reason, [they] felt like they wanted to have their day in court and individually present to a jury or a judge their measure of damage, how they've been injured."

Goodell said people with bigger cases will occasionally decide against being part of a class-action lawsuit.

"Particularly, if you've got landowners with contamination issues..." he said. "[I]n the Grand Isle area, there was oil that's still being exposed on the beach, so those people may have been concerned about getting lumped in with everyone else and wanted to individually pursue their own remedy, obviously because they think they're going to be better off pursuing it as an individual."

Goodell said claimants can decide whether they want to stay out of a class, but it is unclear if the claims that Barbier decided could now enter court were claimants who had decided against being part of the class-action lawsuit.

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