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The architects of a proposed class-action settlement of claims spawned by the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico are confident it won't be derailed by thousands of businesses and individuals opting out of the deal.
Thursday is the deadline for claimants to postmark written requests to opt out of the multibillion-dollar pact between BP PLC and a team of plaintiffs' attorneys.
Patrick Juneau, administrator of the court-supervised claims process, said roughly 2,300 potential plaintiffs had asked to opt out as of Wednesday. But Juneau said a final number won't be known until early next week. And some of the opt-out requests are coming from people who aren't eligible to participate in the settlement, he added.
BP has the right to terminate the settlement agreement if an undisclosed number of claimants opt out of the deal.
Steve Herman, one of the lead plaintiffs' attorneys, said in an email that he sees "very little chance" that the deal will fall apart based on the number of opt outs.
"Compared to the thousands and thousands of claims that have been filed, and recognized, the number of opt outs is very low," Herman wrote. "In fact, many of the objections are from people who are outside of the settlement that want to get into the deal."
BP estimates it will pay $7.8 billion to resolve claims through the uncapped settlement of economic damage and medical claims from the 2010 disaster.
BP spokesman Scott Dean said the company believes the agreement is "an historic resolution that is fair and reasonable and amply meets all the legal requirements for final approval" by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier. The judge will decide whether to give it his final approval following a "fairness hearing" on Nov. 8.
"The settlement is a superior alternative to continued lengthy litigation, provides numerous unique claimant-friendly benefits, and fulfills BP's commitment to pay all legitimate claims stemming from the Deepwater Horizon accident," Dean said in a statement.
Roughly 75,000 new claims have been filed since the court-supervised claims process took over for the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, which was administered by Kenneth Feinberg. Juneau said his team has made offers to nearly 11,500 eligible claimants worth a total of more than $861 million. About 97 percent of the claimants who responded to those offers have accepted them, he added.
"I've never heard of one being this high," Juneau said of that acceptance rate. "I think it speaks to the claimants' view of the program."
Some attorneys with large stables of clients have a dimmer view of the deal, however.
Brent Coon, a Houston-based lawyer, said roughly 5,000 of his 14,000 clients with spill-related claims will ask to opt out of the settlement. Coon said most of them haven't received offers from Juneau's team and don't know how much money, if any, they stand to receive.
"The biggest problem with the class is there is no certainty," he said. "I can't tell clients to stay in the class when I can't tell if they're going to be paid or not."
During a hearing last week, Barbier warned claimants that it could take years for them to resolve their claims if they opt out of the settlement and pursue their cases individually.