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Saturday, April 13, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Oil Spill Attorneys’ Fees Upheld

NEW ORLEANS (CN) - The 5th Circuit this week upheld a federal judge's order giving 6 percent of all Deepwater Horizon settlements or awards to 18 court-appointed plaintiff attorneys.

The 1-page order from a three-judge panel states without explanation: "It is ordered that the writ of mandamus is denied."

Attorneys who are not members of the plaintiff steering committee in the oil spill litigation had asked the 5th Circuit to overturn U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier's order on the 6 percent fees.

Attorneys who are not on the steering committee argued that because BP stepped up as the party responsible for the oil spill and set up a $20 billion fund to pay victims before the plaintiff steering committee was created, it is unreasonable for the steering committee to claim that it had anything to do with BP's claims payment process.

BP established a claims payment process through the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, establishing a $20 billion fund in August 2010, after the April 20, 2010 oil spill that killed 11 and set off the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.

In October 2010, the court-appointed plaintiff steering committee was created to coordinate the more than 100,000 oil spill litigants whose consolidated lawsuits are being overseen by Judge Barbier in New Orleans Federal Court.

Anthony Buzbee, a Houston-based attorney not on the plaintiff steering committee, was among the attorneys who appealed Barbier's ruling to the 5th Circuit.

Buzbee filed a writ of mandamus on behalf of Gabriel Sanchez, a Gulf Coast fisherman and boat captain who has been offered a $66,000 settlement through BP's Gulf Coast Claims Facility.

"This is not a situation where a plaintiff's steering committee's work has been responsible for establishing a settlement corpus, and certain claimants are attempting to avoid compensating the committee for its efforts," Buzbee's writ of mandamus states.

"Instead, this is a situation where a court has ordered the GCCF - without a hearing - to hold back monies that ultimately could exceed $700 million ($13 billion multiplied by .06) of a fund already set aside to pay claims, without the PSC ever establishing - or even attempting to establish - that the PSC has benefited any of the claimants." (Parentheses in original)

Buzbee's document add: "The PSC has conferred no benefit to petitioner, and has not even attempted to do so ... Indeed, the PSC has, at times, intentionally or not, worked against the interests of many claimants and their counsel outside this litigation."

The first oil spill trial will focus on the Deepwater Horizon explosion. Trial begins Feb. 27 and is expected to last 3 months.

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