Lawyers for 600 fishermen impacted by British Petroleum’s monumental oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico said June 23 that the oil company’s claim forms are seriously flawed—hindering the ability of the spill’s victims to recover their losses, reports Florida wrongful death attorneys.
The fishermen, all members of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association, are represented by two Miami law firms, Grossman Roth, P.A., and Bilzin Sumberg Baena Price & Axelrod LLP.
On June 15, BP said it had sped up its mechanism for approving payments to settle business-related claims caused by the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe. According to the company, it has approved the first payouts for 90 percent of large-loss claims already filed. In all, $16 million will be paid, as first payouts, to more than 300 businesses that submitted claims exceeding $5,000.
But Grossman Roth lawyer Andy Yaffa warned that “the claim form BP put on its website is inadequate under the federal Oil Pollution Act of 1990.” For one thing, he said, the act requires a detailed 90-day claims process, but “the offices' BP set up are not following it.”
Yaffa noted that BP’s protocol includes estimating a “sum certain” dollar amount for the entire claim overtime, but, he said, there is “no way anyone can provide a sum certain yet, [because] the oil could be here for years and have [a] permanent impact on livelihood.”
Compounding difficulties for those harmed by the oil spill, said the Miami wrongful death lawyer, are the swarms of attorneys descending on Florida Keys fishermen.
“Marina owners are saying that attorneys are showing up in droves soliciting clients,” said Yaffa. “Lawyers are not supposed to do that.”
Worse, according to the Grossman Roth litigator, are the potentially improper fee arrangements that some soliciting attorneys are offering. Fisherman seeking recovery for oil spill damages have to be vigilant; they should make sure they’re represented by reputable law firms under appropriate fee arrangements, he said.
“We saw [attorneys and others] coming in and seeking a fee from monies that these fishermen were entitled to through the claims process,” he said. “I want to make sure these people get what they’re entitled to, without getting raped. I was offended by what I saw initially.”
Yaffa said Grossman Roth and its partner firm will monitor the legal ramifications of the spill, help file appropriate claims without taking a cut of the claim amount, and then launch litigation, if necessary, at a reduced rate.
They’ll also be keeping an eye on oil spill lawsuits that Keys fishermen have already filed against BP. By filing their cases early, Yaffa said, some lawyers are hoping to influence the venue where the principal consolidated suits filed against BP will be heard. Successful consolidation of the oil spill lawsuits in Houston could put the cases firmly in the most favorable domain for the oil companies.
Unlike the law firms only now arriving in the Florida Keys, Grossman Roth has had a long relationship with area fishermen. For years, the firm has organized a large charity fishing event, the annual Sabadell United Keymorada Invitational Fly-Spin Tournament, benefiting the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America.
Now the Miami injury lawyers hope to benefit another group in need: the fishermen whose businesses—and livelihoods—have been put at risk by a massive oil spill, the ultimate effect of which is still unknown, and perhaps unimaginable.