NEW ORLEANS -- Oil giant BP has asked a federal judge to disregard objections from a fraction of claimants and give final approval to a proposed multibillion-dollar settlement over economic damages from the Gulf oil spill.
BP was joined in the request by plaintiffs' attorneys who helped broker the class-action deal spawned by the 2010 disaster. BP estimates it will pay $7.8 billion to resolve claims through the uncapped settlement.
In court filings late Monday, BP PLC and plaintiffs' lawyers say the deal should not be derailed by a low number of individuals and businesses objecting or asking to opt-out.
Roughly 200 people and groups have formally objected to the deal, while 983 potential claimants asked to opt out as of Oct. 19.
More than 100,000 plaintiffs could benefit from the deal.
BP cited the numbers as evidence that U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier should approve the agreement after a Nov. 8 "fairness hearing." The judge preliminarily approved the proposed settlement in May.
"Critically, none of the objectors makes any attempt to rebut the generosity of the settlement," BP attorneys wrote. "Instead of explaining why the settlement is not fair, many objectors simply argue for even more generous recoveries."
In the spill's aftermath, BP created a $20 billion fund to compensate commercial fishermen, property owners, hotels and other tourism-driven businesses that claimed they suffered economic damages. The company agreed to continue paying claims through a court-supervised settlement program before Barbier decides whether to give his final approval.
In March, the court-supervised program replaced the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, which had processed more than 221,000 claims and paid out more than $6 billion. The new program has received more than 71,000 claims since June and determined that more than 26,000 of them are eligible for payments totaling roughly $1.1 billion, BP says.
Some plaintiffs' attorneys have complained that the new claims process has been slow. Couhig Partners LLC, a New Orleans-based law firm, said in its objection that claims have become bogged down by a "bureaucratic nightmare."
BP insists the program is moving as quickly as possible.
"The claims administrator has also implemented mechanisms to speed up the process, including electronic noticing functions and other tools that decrease the time required to process a claim," company attorneys wrote.
The team of plaintiffs' attorneys who negotiated the deal with BP said many of the lawyers who filed objections also have submitted thousands of claims into the settlement process.
"Why would these attorneys encourage and assist so many clients to participate in a settlement which they truly believed to be `unfair' or `inadequate'?" they wrote.
Nov. 1 is the opt-out deadline. BP says only a minuscule percentage of eligible claimants have asked to be excluded so far.
The settlement calls for BP to pay $2.3 billion for seafood-related claims by commercial fishing vessel owners, captains and deckhands. Several objectors argued the seafood program doesn't adequately account for uncertain future risks to Gulf fisheries.
"The continuing decline of the fisheries and the possibility of a fishery collapse or closure expose commercial fishermen to significant future risk," wrote an advocacy group called Gulf Organized Fisheries in Solidarity & Hope, or GO FISH.
BP countered that objections about the seafood program are based on "anecdotal and unreliable evidence, unsubstantiated allegations, and mere speculation."
The agreement also calls for paying medical claims by cleanup workers and others who say they suffered illnesses from exposure to the oil or chemicals used to disperse it.
It doesn't resolve separate claims brought by the federal government and Gulf states against BP and its partners on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig over environmental damage from the nation's worst offshore oil spill. The deal also doesn't resolve plaintiffs' claims against Switzerland-based rig owner Transocean Ltd. and Houston-based cement contractor Halliburton.