As the oil leak off the Gulf of Mexico grows worse, public concern over the effects this disaster could have on the fishing and crabbing industry in Alabama and other parts of the country grew as well. British Petroleum (BP), the at-fault oil company, held a public information meeting in Bayou La Batre, a south Alabama (AL) fishing town. This meeting featured fishermen, small business owners, town leaders and residents, all of whom are likely to be hurt economically by the oil slick. On the surface, this meeting appeared to be a good gesture by BP, keeping the public informed and making them feel like BP was genuinely concerned about their impending hardship.
However, BP dubiously turned the public meeting into a litigation ploy. BP officials told the fishermen, business owners and local leaders that they won’t have to hire any lawyers, and if they call a BP 1-800 telephone number and claim total damages for themselves and their businesses of less than $5,000, BP would pay the claim. Here’s the catch – they would be required to sign BP paperwork at the meeting. What was in this paperwork? An agreement not to sue BP for any other damages.
Appendix 8 of the agreement includes a “Voluntary Waiver and Release form” that waived the boat owner’s right to sue BP and required confidentiality, according to thedailybeast.com.
BP went on to say that a claim of over $5,000 would require dealing directly with BP’s legal department.
Fortunately, local town leaders realized what was happening, took the microphone from the BP representative and told the townspeople present not to sign BP’s paperwork.
The actions taken by BP at this meeting are disturbing, but not very surprising. We see these questionable legal tactics all the time working with injured railroad workers. The big rail company and their claim agents will tell railroaders that they don’t need to hire a lawyer, just work with their legal department to get a “fair” settlement offer.
This appears to be an attempt to take advantage of these fisherman, local residents, and small business owners in order to reduce BP’s potential legal liability for this disaster.
About the Editors: Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm (VA-NC law offices ) edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard, and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as a pro bono service to consumers.