NEW ORLEANS (CN) - Attorneys general across the Gulf Coast have renewed their criticism of BP's claims payment process, saying BP uses "economic duress to manipulate financially desperate claimants into providing BP ... with an improperly broad release of claims and legal rights in exchange for inadequate consideration."
Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood laid the blame squarely in the lap of Kenneth Feinberg, the facilitator of BP's claims process through the Gulf Coast Claims Facility.
Hood last week filed an updated notice on BP's "continued violations" of the Oil Pollution Act, saying the claims process is still murky, in great part due efforts to Feinberg's efforts to obscure public perception.
"This distortion of the truth is emblematic of the media campaign launched by Mr. Feinberg, acting on BP's behalf, to mislead the public regarding the GCCF [Gulf Coast Claims Facility] and to conceal the repeated violations of OPA [the Oil Pollution Act] by BP, through the GCCF claims process," Hood wrote in his 13-page federal filing.
The Oil Pollution Act is meant to guide BP, as a responsible party, in paying claims of people affected by the spill. It's Mississippi's second notice of BP's failure to comply with the OPA by failing to process claims and pay Gulf Coast residents, many of whom have suffered catastrophic losses as a result of the spill.
Because of the murkiness of the claims process, Hood says, "this court can only rely on anecdotes from claimants to the press and to state consumer protection officials ... to form the basis for any challenge to the adequacy of the current BP claims process or to fashion a remedial order to cure alleged violations of OPA by BP and the GCCF."
Hood says the efficiency of the claims process has deteriorate since February, when U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier ruled that court intervention in the claims process was unnecessary.
Hood says: "A breaking point in the health and economic vitality of our coastal citizens and communities has now been reached as the result of the failure of the claims process to timely and fully compensate claimants with legitimate claims for the losses."
Hood adds that BP, through the GCCF, uses "economic duress to manipulate financially desperate claimants into providing BP, and other responsible parties, with an improperly broad release of claims and legal rights in exchange for inadequate consideration."
Hood says the need for court supervision of the GCCF is dire.
Otherwise, "BP and its agents, Mr. Feinberg and the GCCF will continue to subvert the remedial purposes of OPA. As a result, the people of the Gulf region will continue to be denied the compensation they are owed for their damages resulting from the Deepwater Horizon incident."
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange said that of the GCCF claims that have been paid, "almost all - 98.9 percent (96,417 out of 97,423) are of express-line quick-pay option requiring no processing by the GCCF, and disturbingly, that the claimant was required to forfeit any and all other legal recourse for compensation."
Strange's statement added that "officials also are troubled that the GCCF continues to rearrange data in a way that hinders true transparency. ... a multimillion dollar public relations campaign has been used to distort the truth."