With the lawyers pot likely to reach hundreds of millions of dollars, two groups of attorneys are positioned to lock hornsNew York The estimated $7.8 billion (Dh28.6 billion) settlement reached last week between BP Plc and attorneys for victims of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill left many details unresolved, but at least one thing looks like a sure bet.
The lawyers are gearing up for a fee fight.
At the moment, there is nothing yet to battle over. It is unknown how many plaintiffs will participate in the deal and what their claims are worth.
But with the pot for lawyers likely to reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars, two distinct groups of attorneys are positioned to lock horns. One set is the lawyers that negotiated the deal with BP. These attorneys are seeking to allay fears that the fees will come out of the pocket of claimants. Meanwhile, the other faction — which did not take part in the settlement talks and which has been pursuing claims for clients outside of court — is concerned the money will go to lawyers who do not deserve it. The lawyers in the second faction have been pursuing claims through the Gulf Coast Claims Facility which is backed by a $20 billion trust.
"That antagonism seems to be very strong and will probably continue," said Edward Sherman, a professor at Tulane University Law School in New Orleans.
The feud actually dates to 2010, when BP set up the $20 billion trust, administered by mediator Kenneth Feinberg, to compensate victims from the spill. The point was to allow victims to settle claims quickly without the costs and risk associated with litigation. To date, the Gulf Coast Claims Facility has paid out about $6.1 billion, and resolved more than 220,000 claims.
But many victims did not want just a quick payout. They wanted their day in court and chose to join a massive lawsuit against BP and its drilling partners.
As is typical in such cases, the presiding judge appointed a Plaintiffs' Steering Committee of about two dozen lawyers to gather evidence and prepare witnesses on behalf of the plaintiffs. Given the lucrative nature of leading massive litigation — attorneys in leadership positions can collect between about five per cent and 30 per cent of a settlement's value — there was fierce jockeying for the seats.
Some lawyers who were not picked grumbled that the process was unfair, but eventually began recruiting clients to appear before the Feinberg facility.