NEW ORLEANS (CN) – An attorney in Federal Court for BP on Friday did not deny plaintiff attorneys’ allegations that BP may take shelter under the $75 million liability cap provided by the Oil Pollution Act. That prompted an attorney for plaintiffs to say, “We’re shocked over here to hear the defendants now bring up this $75 million cap. We were under the impression [the cap] was waived.” Plaintiffs’ attorney Steven Herman and BP attorney Don Haycraft sparred before U.S. District Judge Carl J. Barbier during a status conference on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill catastrophe.
Judge Barbier appeared to agree with Herman, saying the American public had the impression that BP executives have said repeatedly that the company will pay whatever is necessary to clean up its mess.
“BP said it would pay whatever [is] necessary,” Barbier said.
But in response, BP attorney Don Haycraft said, “I know that BP has paid lots and lots and lots” of money already.
Haycraft said the issue of liability is before Congress and he could not discuss it without guidance from BP.
“I haven’t discussed that with BP in this particular context,” Haycraft told the court. But Haycraft agreed with Herman’s assertion that BP has promised to pay all costs necessary.
“I have said for sure, ‘BP will pay all legitimate claims,'” Haycraft said.
“All legitimate claims up to $75 million?” Herman asked.
“I am not prepared to answer that question in this context,” Haycraft said.
The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 caps damages from oil spills at $75 million. It was enacted after the Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coast of Alaska, to strengthen the Environmental Pollution Agency’s response to oil spills.
The Act also requires oil companies to have a plan for preventing spills and for cleaning up if they occur.
As early as May 5 this year, BP’s then-CEO Tony Hayward said in a press conference that BP would not hide behind the $75 million cap and that all legitimate claims “will be honored.”
BP already has paid almost $1.4 billion in oil spill claims for the Deepwater Horizon disaster, according to data provided by Kenneth Feinberg’s office.
Feinberg is the federally appointed administrator of the BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster Victim Compensation Fund. He fulfilled a similar role after the Sept. 11, 2001, World Trade Centers disaster.
Haycraft said 61,000 claims are still pending because of missing information.
Haycraft declined to answer questions after the hearing.