BP Settlement claimants have a lot at stake when they submit a claim to the Court-Supervised Settlement Program. Many are seeking recovery for businesses that they have dedicated their lives to—maybe that were even passed down through the family over generations. Others spent years making a career for themselves in the Gulf Coast region only to see it washed away in the wake of the oil spill. Putting a life—and a livelihood—back together after a disaster as significant as the Deepwater Horizon spill is no small task. The BP Settlement is aimed at helping injured claimants begin to do just that, but taking full advantage of the Settlement requires the assistance of someone with skill and a deep understanding of the Settlement process. Unfortunately, too many claimants don’t seem to be getting that assistance.
With hundreds of thousands of claimants waiting for recovery across the entire Gulf Coast region, there is a growing number of non-attorney professionals—“claims consultants”, “public adjusters” or CPAs—offering up their services to claimants. But not all representatives are equal and in this particular case “you get what you pay for”, as Whitney Ross, Director of Finance for The Law Office of Thomas L. Young put it. Ross added that claimants who have the potential to receive a significant amount of money if their claim is successful should ask themselves: “would you rather hire a ‘consultant” or individual CPA, or would you rather enlist a consortium of attorneys, investment bankers and accounting firms who have more than 1,200 Gulf Coast clients to date?” .
A recent report from the court-appointed claims administrator should serve as a warning to claimants that hiring non-attorney professionals is a risky move when so much is at stake. In particular, the report expressed serious concern about the numbers of incomplete claims that show up during the review process. Particularly disconcerting is the fact that many of those incomplete claims aren’t just being submitted by claimants without representation. Instead 52%–a majority—of incomplete claims have been submitted by claimants who do have representation. Incomplete documentation seems to be a particular issue for claimants who had already filed a claim with the GCCF and then had it transferred to the Court-Supervised Settlement Program. 48% of incomplete claims fall into this group.
Many of the claim categories defined in the Settlement allow claimants to provide different types of supporting documentation, with some types of documents being stronger than others. When relatively weaker documents are being used, additional supporting information is often required. But the numbers of claimants who fail to provide that additional documentation is shocking. For example, within the Seafood Program, 49.9% of vessel owners, commercial fisherman vessel lessees and boat captains rely on second-tier documentation in their claims, which requires additional supporting data. But 100% of them failed to provide that supporting data, despite the availability of a form that addresses this precise issue.
As these claims processing numbers show, some of the representation that claimants are receiving is downright bad. Ross points out that “For every two claims that are approved one is being rejected, because people who lack expertise in navigating the Deepwater Horizon process are submitting claims.” As attorneys who have been working on this Settlement for months, we expect that we will see many non-attorney processors sued for malpractice as their clients miss out on compensation or receive legal advice from non-attorneys. According to Ross , “here at The Law Office of Thomas L. Young we have signed up several clients who made the mistake of enlisting the aid of fly-by-night ‘consulting firms’, only to be ignored by these unprofessional organizations. Frankly, the clients got lucky as their previous representation were unable to file a claim that would likely have been rejected.”
Submitting a claim to the Settlement program is one thing. But submitting a claim that has a strong chance of success, that approaches the claim from every conceivable angle and that maximizes a claimants’ opportunity for recovery is something else entirely. It requires a deep understanding of the Settlement and the legal issues involved. With as much at stake as there is for BP Settlement claimants, strong, professional representation throughout the claims process is a must.