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Architects of BP deal now have to sell it to plaintiffs

Courts must also be persuaded to accept settlement

NEW ORLEANS - The deal is all but done. Now it is time to sell it.

Days after they announced a multibillion-dollar settlement, BP PLC and a committee of plaintiffs’ attorneys are working out details of an agreement to resolve more than 100,000 claims spawned by the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

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They must persuade a federal judge that the settlement is fair and equitable, but the sales job does not end there.

Some attorneys who did not participate in the talks but represent thousands of plaintiffs question whether the court-supervised claims process offers a better bargain for their clients than the $20 billion compensation fund BP established in 2010. They can urge their clients not to participate in the settlement, though pursuing a claim separately could involve years of costly litigation.

Anthony Buzbee, a Houston attorney who represents about 12,000 clients with claims against BP, said he received a phone call Monday night from a Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee member who briefed him on some of the terms of the deal.

Buzbee had initially expressed doubt that the settlement could benefit his clients.

His tone had softened by Tuesday, however.

Buzbee said the committee member assured him the court settlement’s terms are much more generous than the Gulf Coast Claims Facility’s claims processing formula.

“I’m going to withhold judgment on it and wait and see what the final protocols are going to be,’’ Buzbee said.

Daniel Becnel Jr., a Reserve, La., attorney who represents about 1,500 clients with claims against BP, said he does not need to read the fine print of the deal to know he will advise his clients to opt out of the settlement. One of Becnel’s concerns is that he says the settlement does not account for tens of thousands of people and businesses that have not filed claims yet.

“They’re starting to catch a lot of flak from a lot of people,’’ Becnel said. “How do you settle a case without knowing what the universe is of the entire client population?’’

Rig owner Transocean and cement contractor Halliburton also may challenge the deal in part because it seeks to assign certain claims BP has made against those companies to the steering committee.

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