By Sasha Chavkin, ProPublica
BP has long maintained that it will pay all "legitimate" claims for
damage caused by the gusher in the Gulf of Mexico. But company data
shows that while it has written checks for roughly half of the overall
claims it has received -- most of which address property damage and the
loss of income -- it has not made payments on any of the more than 1,100
claims that have been filed for damages caused by "bodily injury."
As of last Tuesday, BP's
statistics showed a total of
1,105 claims for compensation for bodily injury, including 298 claims
for respiratory ailments, 275 claims for anxiety or stress, and 261
claims for nausea. These claims have not received any of nearly $149
million in compensation that the company has paid out to date.
BP's inaction on bodily injury claims, the only category in which all
claims remain unpaid, suggests that the company is still discussing its
approach to claims that could establish its liability for illness and
"I'm sure they're still defining their strategy on how they're going to
handle the personal injury claims," said Andrew Klein, a professor of
law at Indiana University. "They're going to be pretty cautious in
paying personal injury until they have a better idea of what the scope
of their liability is."
Bodily injury claims threaten to open the company up to a significant
new area of damages. As we've reported, cleanup
workers are continuing to report illnesses that they believe are caused by chemical exposure, and
mental health counselors in Louisiana are finding increasing
stress and anxiety in
communities affected by the spill.
There are almost 400 more bodily injury claims than there are worker
injuries or illnesses described
in BP's most recent count, which covers data up to June 17.
BP spokesman Max McGahan said in an e-mail that "claims for bodily
injury are still under review for compensability."
Many of the guidelines for determining a company's liability for an oil
spill are set out in the 1990 Oil Pollution Act, a federal law passed
in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez disaster. The law holds that a
company is liable for "removal costs
and damages resulting from an incident,"
but according to Professor Klein, it doesn't cover bodily injuries
caused by workplace or environmental conditions.
A BP web page titled "How
to Make a Claim" lists areas
covered by the Oil Pollution Act, such as property damage, loss of
earning capacity and cleanup costs, and then states: "BP also will
evaluate all claims for bodily injury even though they are not payable
under the Oil Spill Pollution Act of 1990."
The web page later lays out guidelines for documenting bodily injury
claims. "You will need to provide medical records, medical bills, or
pharmacy records to support the claim," it states.
We'll continue to follow BP's approach to bodily injury claims --
including whether the company still is planning to evaluate all of them.
(Photo of the Krewe of Dead Pelicans by Infrogmation via Wikimedia Commons.)