While a negotiated settlement agreement between BP plc and Gulf residents and businesses impacted by the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill is considered by a U.S. federal judge, a number of workers involved in the oil cleanup following the spill and sickened by the chemical dispersants used during the process are getting confused now.
The reason for the dilemma is that Nalco, the company that made the Corexit (the dispersant used for oil cleanup), and some firms that applied it for the cleanup process, are asking the United States District Court Judge Carl Barbier to dismiss the case filed against them in connection with the BP oil spill. The plaintiffs are not sure whether to take part in BP’s proposed multibillion dollar deal BP plc reached with the steering committee for private oil spill plaintiffs who suffered financial damage and health problems.
The proposed settlement agreement will include compensation payment for past as well as future medical issues relating to the oil spill disaster. Plaintiffs should exclude themselves from the settlement on or before October 1 if they wish to go ahead with legal proceedings separately.
Plaintiffs who think they were injured by the chemical dispersant and opt out of the deal are in fact gambling that they could win more damage payouts through separate suits against Nalco and/or the firms used Nalco’s dispersant for oil cleanup.
“The only possible way an oil cleanup worker could launch a lawsuit against Nalco Company is to deny the settlement. They should not be a part of the massive class-action settlement,” said Prof. Robert Verchick, an environmental law lecturer with the Loyola University. Verchick, who was following the case, said there is a risk in doing so. “If you opt out of the deal, you risk not receiving what you would get under the current settlement,” Verchick said.
Nalco and other defendants in the case want Judge Carl Barbier to dismiss the cases against them with prejudice. This means, the defendants don’t have to face additional BP oil spill-related suits. Barbier may hear verbal arguments both the parties on Friday.
The oil spill responders argue that federal regulations (Clean Water Act) give them immunity from responsibility for steps taken at the direction of the government.
Nalco said its Corexit had been repeatedly approved by the federal government for use for decades. The company didn’t comment further.