MOBILE, Ala. (CN) – A RICO class action claims BP has corrupted the claims process during the Gulf oil spill by using “unqualified and inept” third parties to process legal claims, to practice law without a license, and to commit mail fraud, wire fraud and violate state insurance laws. The class challenges “what defendants refer to as the ‘BP claims process,'” calling it a conspiracy “involving the unauthorized practice of law and other criminal acts that are ultimately designed to delay and reduce the payment of legitimate legal damages by lulling class members into a false understanding of the availability of recoverable damages at law.”
The federal complaint continues: “The BP defendants are actively soliciting third parties, including defendant Brett Robinson [Brett Robinson Gulf Corp. – a property manager], to provide services tantamount to the giving of legal advice to plaintiffs regarding their claims, losses, and recoverable damages. Moreover, the BP defendants have authorized third parties, including defendant Brett Robinson and others, to evaluate and present damage claims of claimants in a manner which constitutes criminal conduct in Alabama and Florida.”
The State of Alabama, ex rel. Ben Chenault and CMCO LLC, asked the court to enjoin BP and its co-defendants from “1) authorizing unlicensed and unqualified third parties to evaluate and/or present legal damage claims within the BP claims process; 2) engaging in the unauthorized practice of law and/or soliciting third parties to engage in the unauthorized practice of law and/or engage in violations of state insurance laws and regulations within the State of Alabama and the State of Florida; and 3) engaging in other criminal or unlawful activity designed to delay, underpay, or avoid payment of claims within the BP claims process.”
Claims from property owners affected by the catastrophic oil spill have been “delayed, underpaid and even denied,” according to the complaint.
According to the complaint, in “what defendants refer to as the ‘BP claims process,” each claimant is required to fill out a series of forms.
Chenault says BP hired third parties, including co-defendants ESIS Inc., Worley Catastrophe Services, Worley Catastrophe Response LLC and Brett Robinson Gulf Corporation, to give legal advice to Chenault and others on their claims for damages.
Chenault calls this unauthorized practice of law, and a “direct result of the defendants’ pattern of racketeering activity and corruption” that is “designed to delay, underpay and deny claims”.
Chenault and fellow plaintiff CMCO own properties on the Gulf of Mexico that are managed by Brett Robinson Gulf Corp. They say they received a letter from Robinson stating that it “had the capability of submitting these claims” on their behalf, along with a release absolving it from liability.
Robinson charged a fee to present the claims to BP, and the defendants told the property owners they did not need a lawyer, all the while knowing the Alabama State Bar and Florida State Bar have programs in place to help people with their claims without any legal fees, according to the complaint.
The class claims that the defendants, through the “BP Claims Process,” are “authorizing third parties to engage in the unauthorized practice of law and to violate state insurance laws and regulations for their own pecuniary gain.”
It adds: “The pattern of racketeering activity is currently ongoing and open ended, and threatens to continue indefinitely unless this court enjoins the racketeering activity. The defendants have absolutely no incentive to cease and desist such pattern of unlawful activity in the absence of judicial intervention.”
The plaintiffs seek an injunction and treble and punitive damages for RICO conspiracy and unjust enrichment. They are represented by M. Shane Lucado of Birmingham.