• Credit: The Times-Picayune

It has been three years since the Macondo oil drilling platform caught fire, exploded, sank, and leaked uncounted barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. But the legal battle over the oil spill is far from over. A second phase of the civil trial targeting oil company BP begins in September, reports the New Orleans Times-Picayune ("Gulf oil spill trial's 2nd phase to last 16 days, judge says," by The Associated Press). In this proceeding, the court will attempt to determine how much oil the damaged well released into Gulf of Mexico waters—an issue that will affect BP's total penalties in the case (which could run as high as $4,300 per barrel if the company is found to have been negligent in the spill).

But meantime, the Times-Picayune reports, BP is seeking to hold off on payouts of awards from previous trial losses, saying that it believes some claims administrators are conspiring with claim filers to present fraudulent claims: ("BP presents evidence of fraudulent claims, demands temporary halt of claims payments again," by Mark Schleifstein). The company says a tip received at its anti-fraud hotline led to evidence of misconduct in the claims office: "According to the tip, the employee was assisting individuals, including family members, in submitting fraudulent subsistence claims to the CSSP in exchange for payment of a portion of settlement awards that may be paid to these individual claimants," says a BP legal brief. "The employee allegedly recruited individuals to submit fraudulent claims, provided advice regarding what claim details would yield the maximum claim possible, and received a portion of the awards." And BP says some attorneys serving on appeals panels that hear claims are working for law firms that represent claim filers—an apparent conflict of interest.

Now, BP is running newspaper ads complaining about fraudulent claims, and pointing the finger at trial lawyers, reports the Times-Picayune ("New BP ads say people without losses seeking money for 2010 oil spill," by Bruce Alpert).

A BP Washington Post ad quotes Chamber of Commerce president Thomas Donohoe: "Regardless of what you may think of oil giant BP, you'd be hard-pressed to argue it hasn't bent over backward to make amends for the catastrophic Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010...Enter a parade of trial lawyers, a who's who of some of the nation's wealthiest lawyers. They smell big bucks and want a piece of the action...The result is that thousands of claimants that suffered no losses are coming forward, obtaining outrageous windfalls and making a mockery of what was intended to be a fair and honest settlement process."