NEW ORLEANS (CN) - Today (Tuesday) is the deadline for the emergency payment program of oil-spill claims from the Gulf Coast Claims Facility. People or businesses that miss the deadline will have to file interim or final release claims. During a sometimes confusing oil spill status conference on Friday, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier asked for clarification of the types of claims that will be accepted after the deadline.
Francis E. McGovern, a Duke University law professor chosen to act as special master in the oil spill multidistrict litigation, told the court the difference between "emergency" and "interim" and "final release" claims is a matter of "different protocol."
The Gulf Coast Claims Facility is overseen by Kenneth Feinberg, who also handled claims from the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.
McGovern said that according to his understanding from a recent conversation with Feinberg, after Tuesday, interim claims can be made with an option of filing for another claim every 3 months, while claims for final release will seek a single, lump sum payment in exchange for a full release. The emergency claims period lasted for 6 months.
Conceding that "it's been a little confusing," Judge Barbier asked McGovern to explain the difference in protocol between the old emergency claims and the new types to be filed.
"Probably the best way to disclose the protocol is to say that they will develop their own standards," McGovern said of the Gulf Coast Claims Facility.
He added: "I tell my students there is no place to hide in a courtroom. I would hide on that question if I could."
As of Friday, the Gulf Coast Claims Facility had paid $1.9 billion in claims to 395,000 claimants, with 149,360 claims awaiting documentation.
So far, 370 cases have been consolidated in the federal multidistrict litigation.
A total of 17 oil spill cases are pending in state courts in Alabama, Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.
Of the state court cases, two in Texas have been assigned trial dates. On Oct. 17, in Galveston County, a case involving BP workers who were injured in a gas line leak will begin. Although the case is unrelated to the April 20 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion that set off the worst oil spill in U.S. history, the lawsuit was filed in response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster and is therefore related.
Department of Justice attorney Mike Underhill said forensic testing on the failed blowout preventer is underway. The government expects to complete the testing by the end of January, with a report available by March 2011.
Describing the testing as a "slow but quick process," Underhill said the deadline for a full report on the blowout preventer could be delayed beyond March.
"They're doing their best job," Underhill said. "All the parties are trying to cooperate and are doing the best that they can, and I think everyone should be commended on that."
Counsel for the Department of Justice reported that the sample of cement used by Halliburton in the blown out Macondo well has been turned over to the Marine Board and is being held in a climate-controlled area.
Cement testing has not yet begun and will not begin until a "set of protocols everyone agrees to" has been chosen.
The next status conference is scheduled for Friday, Dec. 17, at 9:30 a.m.
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