BP spill payoffs continue; $13 billion earmarked
TAMPA - Those working in the Gulf seafood industry have just two more weeks to file claims for the billions of dollars available to offset economic losses from the 2010 BP oil spill. But other businesses in the region still have more than a year to submit their claims, until April 22, 2014, and they don't even have to prove the spill caused their losses. Thousands of businesses in counties around Tampa Bay are eligible for some of the $13 billion set aside through a court-approved settlement for states bordering the Gulf of Mexico, including Florida counties from the Panhandle to Naples. Businesses in those counties that saw their earnings drop in 2010 compared with earlier years can make a claim."That traditional causation requirement has been waived," said Tampa lawyer Tom Young, who said his firm is handling claims from more than a thousand businesses. "There is no way we can prove, or anybody can prove, that the oil spill was the cause of the financial circumstances they found themselves in." In other words, a plumbing company in Plant City could be eligible for money if the owners can show an earnings decline during a three-month period between May and December 2010 compared with the same three months in earlier years. "The assumption is I have to own a restaurant on Clearwater Beach," Young said. "And that's not the case." Young said 50 percent of all businesses in the Bay area may be eligible for compensation. He estimated an average payout of $200,000. Ineligible businesses include developers, certain financial institutions, insurance companies and casinos. One Tampa business that submitted a claim is Coldesi, which sells and services apparel-decorating equipment such as embroidery machines and T-shirt printing equipment. "We didn't think we were impacted because we're not on the beach, say, selling food to tourists," owner Scott Colman said. But his business is dependent on merchants selling clothing to vacationers along local beaches. "Our customers are making the finished products that are going into the hands of restaurants or souvenir shops selling shirts on the beach," Colman said. "So we did see a dramatic impact in our business based on that." He's confident his claim will be granted. Business owners need not hire a lawyer to file a claim. They can go directly to the court-approved website: www.deepwaterhorizonsettlements.com. The site spells out which business owners can participate. Deepwater Horizon was the BP drilling platform that exploded on April 20, 2010, killing 11 workers and injuring 17 others. The well gushed 4.9 million barrels of oil before it was capped on July 15, 2010, causing environmental and economic damage to the Gulf that is still being calculated. The administrator of the BP settlement, Patrick Juneau, expects 800,000 claims to be filed; about 70,000 claims have been filed so far. Juneau said his office runs a "precise, detailed settlement program." "It lays out the formula for how you go about determining what your claim is worth and eligibility," Juneau told Torts Today, a legal blog. "It is based on a detailed document." Still, the formulas on the website can be daunting. Business owners can get help through lawyers or by contacting the local claims assistance center in Clearwater, 2552 Drew St., Suite 303, or (727) 796-0718. The help there is free. "Everybody can go on to the website and either file a claim or come into our claims assistance center," said Josh Davis, manager of the center. "We're considered the official front lines of the project." Davis said filing a claim usually requires two visits. On the first interview, a claims assistant will help decide which type of claim should be filed and what type of documents are needed. Usually, a business owner gets some homework to do and returns when it's finished, Davis said, perhaps with the help of the firm's bookkeeper or controller. The claims assistance office mails finished documents to the proper authorities, free. "Even if they file with us and they review their claim and don't think it was what it should be, at that point they can always get a lawyer and refile," Davis said. "Nothing harms them by coming in and trying our services first." Seafood and fishing businesses follow their own procedures, but one owner advised preparing for frustration when filing a claim. Mark Hubbard, a charter boat captain and owner of Hubbard's Marina at Johns Pass, said, "They want your life history, documented inside out, forward and aft. And then they turn it down. "I submitted a package that was like a novel, and they lost it," he said. "Twice. They lost it twice." He said he has a new claim filed but hasn't heard anything. Most charter businesses that sail out of the marina also have filed claims, he said. Some have been reimbursed, and some, like Hubbard, are still waiting.
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