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BP takes fight to claimants

Sends letters to plaintiffs it says were overpaid

Tar balls mixed with shells on the beach in Gulf Shores, Ala. BP said it is looking to recover potentially billions in settlement payouts made following its 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Dave Martin/associated press

Tar balls mixed with shells on the beach in Gulf Shores, Ala. BP said it is looking to recover potentially billions in settlement payouts made following its 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

NEW ORLEANS — With an ad blitz and a tersely worded letter, BP is mounting an increasingly aggressive campaign to challenge what could be billions of dollars in settlement payouts to businesses following its 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

In letters that started going out Tuesday, BP warns lawyers for many Gulf Coast businesses that it may seek to recover at least some of their clients’ shares of the multibillion-dollar settlement if it successfully appeals a key ruling in the legal wrangling spawned by the nation’s worst offshore oil spill.

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BP says it is sending hundreds of the letters to attorneys for businesses the company believes received excessive payments from the court-supervised settlement program.

‘‘BP reserves whatever rights it may have to pursue any legal method to recover such overpayments,’’ company attorney Daniel Cantor wrote.

James Roy and Stephen Herman, two of the lead plaintiffs’ lawyers who helped broker the deal with the London-based oil giant, warned Cantor that his letter ‘‘misstates the law and violates BP’s obligations under the Settlement Agreement.’’

‘‘No process exists to alter the amount of an award after it has been paid,’’ they wrote in a letter dated Monday. ‘‘It is obvious that the timing and tone of your letter is an attempt to discourage claimants from pursuing claims under the Settlement Program.’’

Meanwhile, BP also placed a full-page advertisement in three of the nation’s largest newspapers Wednesday that accuses ‘‘trial lawyers and some politicians’’ of encouraging businesses to submit thousands of claims for inflated or non-existent losses.

‘‘Whatever you think about BP, we can all agree that it’s wrong for anyone to take money they don’t deserve,’’ says the ad, which was scheduled to appear in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. ‘‘And it’s unfair to everyone in the Gulf . . . who’ve filed legitimate claims for real losses.’’

In April, US District Judge Carl Barbier upheld a court-appointed claims administrator’s interpretation of the multi-billion dollar settlement it reached with a group of plaintiffs’ attorneys.

BP appealed the decision. A three-judge panel from the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear the case July 8.

BP spokesman Geoff Morrell said the newspaper ad is consistent with the company’s efforts to keep the public informed of its economic and environmental restoration efforts.

‘‘It explains the actions we are taking to defend the contract we agreed to and to assure the integrity of the claims process,’’ he said in a statement.

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