Attorneys for six Florida Keys businesses that claim they suffered financial harm as a result of the April 2010 DeepWater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico filed a motion in federal court this week to force BP to release money agreed to in settlement agreements.
Bernadette Restivo, managing partner of the Key Largo firm Restivo, Reilly & Vigil-Farinas, said her clients -- whom she did not name -- are owed individual settlements ranging from $16,000 to $150,000.
"It's almost obvious to those of us who took first-year contract law that these are binding contracts," Restivo said Thursday. "These should be enforced."
Restivo's motion, filed in U.S. District Court in New Orleans, seeks to overturn a three-judge Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals panel that late last year issued an injunction to suspend settlement payments to all parties except those who proved they were negatively impacted by the massive oil spill.
BP sought the injunction because it is fighting a court battle over the interpretation of the 2012 settlement. BP says the settlement is being misinterpreted and allowing businesses that were not affected by the spill to get a free money from the oil giant.
According to the Financial Times, several attorneys nationwide who advertised that they could get people BP money stated in commercials and other ads that there is no need to prove BP caused an individual business' loss. BP claims it has already paid out more than $500 million to businesses that were not impacted by the spill.
But Judge Carl Barbier, the federal judge hearing the civil claims against BP, rejected that argument several times, according to a December Financial Times article.
However, the Fifth Circuit Court panel in October said Barbier did not adequately consider questions of whether businesses receiving settlements actually experienced losses because of the spill. The panel ordered Barbier to issue the injunction.
But Restivo said her clients should not be subject to the sanction since they went through all the necessary steps to receive money under the settlement agreement.
She argues that all of her clients' eligibility notices were "issued, accepted and transmitted" before the temporary suspension of payments went into effect on Oct. 18.
Moreover, all of Restivo's clients agreed as part of the settlement that they would not sue BP in exchange for the settlement payments.
"These people have been put through the ringer. They jumped through every hoop they were asked to," Restivo said. "And now they are in legal limbo, and we don't believe they should be there."