Mississippi businesses feel impact of BP court battles

Mississippi Public Broadcasting

BP and attorneys representing some of the businesses who say they were hurt by the 2010 Gulf oil spill were back in court this week. MPB’s Evelina Burnett reports on how the ongoing legal battles are affecting Mississippi businesses. BP has argued that parts of the oil spill settlement agreement — dealing with the way some business economic losses are calculated — have been misinterpreted. It won that argument in an appeals court last month. Since then, the processing of these types of claims has slowed to a trickle.

Stephen Teague, an attorney at the Mississippi Center for Justice, says that’s been painful for some Mississippi businesses.

“Since the spill, a lot of people have been struggling to stay afloat. They’ve been able to hold out, but they may not be able to hold out any longer if they aren’t able to finally recover their losses from three years ago, and ongoing losses even after the spill,” Teague said.

This week’s appeal, argued before a three-judge panel at the 5th Circuit Court in New Orleans yesterday, was brought by plaintiffs dissatisfied with the settlement agreed to by BP and a Plaintiffs Steering Committee last year.

In a statement, a BP spokesman referred to the last month’s appeals court decision and said if the intrepretation of the business economic loss framework isn’t corrected, “the settlement class cannot be certified and the settlement shouLd be set aside.”

If the current appeal does put a halt to the settlement process, that puts the case in uncharted territory. Robert Wiygul is an attorney with Waltzer, Wiygul and Garside in Ocean Springs. He represents about one thousand BP claimants.

“We’re in new territory because there are very serious questions about what happens if you stop implementing a settlement of this size and scope right in the middle of the process, when some people have been paid, and some people have not,” Wiygul said.

About $3.7 billion in claims have been paid as of this week. Just over 28,000 of the claims filed, or about 12 percent, are from Mississippi.