PANAMA CITY BEACH — Filing an economic loss claim against BP can be daunting.
It’s a task Panama City Beach resident Karen Newberry and thousands of other Gulf Coast residents affected by the 2010 oil spill have learned firsthand.
Newberry, who closed her two auto detailing businesses following the spill, filed a claim against BP about a year ago and said she has been wrestling with the process ever since.
“I put my heart and all my energy into making this successful,” Newberry said of her businesses. “I ended up losing both businesses… the economy couldn’t take the BP spill, it just couldn’t.”
At the time of the spill in April 2010, Newberry owned and operated two locations of “Coastal Auto Detailing” in Panama City , a wholesale store and retail store.
The wholesale location closed three months following the spill, and the retail shop, which opened the same month of the spill, closed in April 2011.
Newberry submitted economic loss claims for each business under the court supervised settlement program, which began in June 2012. She was denied compensation for her retail claim and offered $180,000 for her wholesale claim, a number that was appealed by BP with an initial proposal of $0.
“I didn’t know they could do that; I thought it was pretty much settled,” Newberry said. “I’ve been told throughout this whole process that I qualified and now all of a sudden I don’t.”
Following the appeal, Newberry submitted another proposal, to which BP responded with a compensation offer of $120,000. After going through an appeal panel review, the panel sided with BP’s offer.
What surprised her, however, was the manner in which the panel commented on her claim, calling it a “lost cause” and a “pathetic case that seems to have gone out of control.” The comment went on to state that “BP offered $120,000, with no basis for coming up with that figure.”
Newberry said she believed recent allegations of fraud surrounding the BP settlement process could be causing the claims administration to be more selective with claims.
“It’s really sad that the bad ones have to ruin it for the good ones,” said Newberry, who noted she would still be about $500,000 in debt if she accepts the wholesale settlement. “I want people to be paid what they owed.”
Michael Scott, a certified public accountant (CPA) with local firm Carr, Riggs and Ingram, said the back-and-fourth Newberry experienced is not uncommon under the new claims process.
“People don’t understand, this is a process that can be very frustrating, but they don’t just give out money for a (claim) that is just fallacious,” said Scott, who described the new process as “more transparent.”
The current class action settlement agreement is open to businesses and individuals seeking to file claims for economic loss, property damage or personal injury resulting from the spill. The claimant’s home or businesses must fall within a specified geographic area to qualify.
As of July 31, BP reported more than $10 billion paid out in individual and business claims.
“Kind of what we’re finding is while the process is moving slowly, it is moving,” he said. “The claims administration is working on claims a little quicker than they were before.”
However, Scott said although claims are moving, it’s still not as quickly as most would like.
“People do have to understand, if I filed a claim today, I wouldn’t expect to hear anything for 90 to 100 days, which is about three or four mont hs,” he said. “It’s a huge process. There are thousands and thousands of claims involved.”
Scott said Carr , Riggs and Ingram alone has pushed more than 4,000 claims through their Panama City office and even more through the Destin office. The firm has also hired about 20 staff members that do nothing but handle BP claims, he added.
“We’re trying to help people recover money according to the rules that BP has given,” Scott said. “We have a set of rules. Whether you agree or disagree with the rules, they are what they are.”
Business owners and ind ividuals have until April 22 to file a claim under the current settlement agreement.
Scott said the best way to get started is to complete a causation test, a process that can be done in a matter of seconds.
“There are still a lot of people that haven’t looked to see if they can make a claim,” Scott said. “Every business that is brea thing, everyone that has been in business from 2007 to now should look at this.”