Injured Oil Spill Cleanup Workers Must Sue BP for Compensation

If you were injured while working, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits under the law.  These benefits can include indemnity benefits, disability payments, vocational rehabilitation, and medical care for either acute, one-time injuries, or long-term chronic injuries.  BP employees who assisted the cleanup of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill reported both types of injuries, but under a judge’s interpretation of a recent settlement, employees who suffer from chronic conditions may have to file a separate lawsuit.

A New Interpretation

Although a class-action lawsuit led to a settlement that was anticipated to provide roughly $9.7 billion in payouts for injured employees, a recent U.S. District appellate decision may cut nearly 95% of injured employees out of the settlement.  The settlement was initially expected to provide up to $60,700 for any worker with a “Specified Physical Condition” which appeared within 72 hours and continued persisting.

However, under the court’s recent decision, which affirmed an interpretation of the settlement first considered in July, any injury diagnosed after April 16, 2012 does not qualify under the settlement, even if it manifested before that date.  The settlement agreement excludes payment for “Later-Manifested Physical Conditions” that were “first diagnosed” after April 2012.  The court insisted that this was an “unambiguous” interpretation.

Nevertheless, despite terming the interpretation “unambiguous,” the court itself acknowledged that the results were “unexpected.”  Plaintiffs’ attorneys had argued that the term “Specified Physical Condition” did not require a diagnosis by any certain date, and that the April 2012 cut-off date should only apply to injuries that manifested after that date.  In other words, injuries that appeared earlier, but that were diagnosed later, should not be considered Later-Manifested Physical Conditions.  Nevertheless, the court held that individuals with chronic conditions that manifested before April 2012, but whose injuries were not diagnosed until after the cut-off, must file separate lawsuits.

Continuing Chronic Injuries

More than 170,000 workers participated in the cleanup of the 2010 environmental disaster, and many were exposed to oil and the toxic carcinogen benzene.  Many employees immediately reported acute injuries such as dizziness, fatigue, headaches, nausea, and even coughing up blood.  In the long term, however, one study has concluded that workers who participated in the cleanup may suffer an increased risk of cancer, kidney and liver damage, and decreased levels of blood-clotting platelets.

Despite their initial injuries, many workers did not get diagnosed until much later out of fear of losing the work or because the injuries had not yet developed into more serious conditions.  Given that the settlement was not approved until November of 2012, long after the cut-off date, many workers did not realize the need for an early diagnosis.

Despite BP’s implication that many claimants seek medical compensation and “money they don’t deserve”, a third-party audit has demonstrated that levels of fraud and error are unusually low for BP employees injured in the 2010 spill.  If you or a loved one was injured as part of the oil spill cleanup and is no longer covered by the class-action settlement, contact your local workers’ compensation attorney.

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