Duped Into a Chintzy Oil-Spill Settlement
NEW ORLEANS (CN) - The chief engineer aboard a supply boat that was near the Deepwater Horizon when it exploded, and whose company quickly began working for BP in the cleanup, claims he was pushed into accepting a settlement for debilitating oil spill-related illness before the extent of his injuries was known.
Clayton Matherne says he accepted a $21,000 settlement from Guilbeau Marine without realizing that in doing so he was giving up his rights to get anything from BP. He says his medical bills have come to $700,000 and he still is dangerously ill.
"The president of the United States and the federal government of the United States promised to protect us, but since the oil spill in 2010, they've chosen to turn a blind eye," Clayton Matherne told Courthouse News in a telephone interview.
"But we were the ones who were called upon to help when the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico happened."
Guilbeau Marine worked for BP cleaning up the oil spill. Matherne worked for Guilbeau; he sued both companies in Federal Court.
Matherne worked and slept aboard two ships during the oil spill cleanup, according to his complaint. By the end of July 2010, he says, his doctor had prescribed him a wheelchair because he was having so much difficulty breathing.
In his complaint, Matherne says he "was seen by Dr. Benjamin Walton on July 28, 2010, who rendered an opinion on July 30, 2010 that the plaintiff be seen by a pulmonologist to evaluate him from a respiratory standpoint. Dr. Walton recommended that plaintiff continue to take medication consisting of Albuterol, Prednisone and Advair. Dr. Walton prescribed a wheelchair because plaintiff complained of shortness of breath and declared him unfit for duty from work.
"On the 19th day of August 2010, plaintiff executed a settlement agreement wherein he mistakenly resolved any and all claims he may have against British Petroleum America Inc., British Petroleum Exploration & Production Inc., British Petroleum plc, Guilbeau Marine Inc. and/or Guilbeau Boat Rentals LLC for the amount of twenty one thousand dollars and no/100."
Matherne, sounding weary and irritable, agreed to a telephone interview on a sweltering afternoon on Father's Day.
"Bottom line: If I don't start getting the proper medical treatment that I need, I'll be dead in 6 months," Matherne said.
Matherne said the settlement he took last summer barely made a dent in his medical bills. He says his illness from exposure to oil and dispersants has caused him $700,000 in medical bills so far, cost him his job and house, and that despite his medical treatment he suffers from seizures, headaches, paralysis, nausea, vomiting, not being able to breathe, loss of vision and dizziness.
Always among those symptoms, Matherne said, is "the feeling of hardship of me and my family losing everything we got. My body just feels like it wants to shut down."
Matherne is a patient of Dr. Michael Robichaux, a Raceland, La. ear, nose and throat specialist and a former state senator.
Robichaux is one of a handful of doctors who are trying to understand the effects of the oil spill and dispersants on the some 100,000 Gulf Coast residents who are sick after last summer's massive oil spill.
Matherne declined to say how Robichaux is treating him, but said Robichaux's treatments have helped.
"I tested positive for benzene chemical poisoning, methanol xylene chemical poisoning, methanol pantene chemical poisoning, ethanol benzene chemical poisoning, hexane chemical poisoning," Matherne said.
In the federal lawsuit, Matherne's attorney Jodi Aamodt says his client didn't realize what he was signing when he took the settlement from Guilbeau Marine. He asks the court to override the terms of the settlement.
"At the time of the settlement, the plaintiff was under active medical care for catastrophic injuries sustained as a result of the accident of April 20, 2010 and had not reached maximum medical care," the complaint states. "Plaintiff was not aware of the extent of his injuries. Plaintiff did not have full appreciation of his rights or of the consequences and the effect of his action when he executed the release. Specifically, while plaintiff was represented by counsel, plaintiff did not know that he was releasing any claims against BP or any of its related companies. Moreover, the amount of compensation, based on the severity of plaintiff's injuries, shocks the conscience and is wholly inadequate and invalid consideration.
"Plaintiff prays that the settlement be set aside."
At an oil spill summit at the Hilton in New Orleans on anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, Kenneth Feinberg, who oversees BP's $20 billion claims process at the Gulf Coast Claims Facility abruptly ended a public meeting shortly after Matherne asked him how it was that the Gulf Coast Claims Facility had managed to lose all of Matherne's medical records seven times.
"The GCCF says they don't have enough documentation to pay a $100,000 claim, when in fact this amount is only half - I've faxed my medical records seven times," Matherne told Feinberg at the meeting. "Where are medical claims going?"
"We will honor all claims," Feinberg said, then asked: "Was there evidence the medical condition was on account of oil?"
Feinberg told Louisiana lawmakers this month that the GCCF had not seen a single claim for oil-related illnesses on the Gulf Coast.
"Did Feinberg follow up? No!" Matherne said in the interview. Neither did Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, Matherne said.
Landrieu told Matherne at the oil spill meeting: "I want to commit to work with you and specifically with you and your family, and work toward getting doctor and nurse testimonies on national record. ... I believe the country doesn't have the kind of research to help you as much as we should. I will do everything I can to help you."
Matherne said he is fed up with BP and with the government: "It's been nothing but lies. They tell one lie to cover up another one.
"And I'm just hoping and praying to God that my attorney can get that decision overturned. I sit at home right now dying with this chemical poisoning.
"I'm sure me and my family are not the only ones who've lost everything," Matherne said. "They could at least be human enough to accept responsibility for what they've done to us."