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28 Jan 2011

Dionne Searcey, Wall Street Journal

Oil-Spill Lawyers Urge Clients to Settle - Move Would Shift Gulf Residents' Claims From Court to BP's Compensation Fund; 'Most of These People Can't Wait' [USA]

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A group of lawyers suing BP PLC over its Gulf oil spill is moving instead to redirect dozens of its clients to make claims to the $20 billion fund set up by BP and the Obama administration. While hundreds of people are still suing BP in federal court, the lawyers' move could end up robbing that ongoing litigation of the critical mass of plaintiffs that might be needed to prove broad economic losses. The move by the lawyers...represents the first significant crack in plaintiffs' attorneys' plans to reap significant court victories for hundreds of people affected by the spill...Those still representing clients in the federal litigation said they would continue. "It is not our job to pass judgment on how individual lawyers choose to handle their clients' claims," said Brian Barr, one of the lead attorneys in the litigation against BP. For...[those] who say they were financially harmed by the Gulf disaster, settling means a quicker payout but a lost chance at earning damage payments. For their attorneys, the move is a chance to eke out a bigger settlement that could serve as a lure for other plaintiffs to...hire them to settle claims. For BP, settling all the claims could save money on attorneys' fees and usher the matter out of the public eye...A BP spokeswoman declined to comment...The move...—led by Daniel Becnel in Louisiana—represents a new tactic for lawyers who weren't named to lead the federal litigation and so are ineligible to reap the biggest fees...Plaintiffs face a dilemma: fight in court and potentially reap big rewards, or turn to the fund and get a faster payout for their past and likely future losses but forgo any damage payments... "Most of these people can't wait," said Mr. Becnel. "They don't have the financial wherewithal."