BP has long maintained that it will pay all "legitimate" claims for damage caused by the gusher in the Gulf of Mexico. But company data shows that while it has written checks for roughly half of the overall claims it has received -- most of which address property damage and the loss of income -- it has not made payments on any of the more than 1,100 claims that have been filed for damages caused by "bodily injury."
As of last Tuesday, BP's statistics showed a total of 1,105 claims for compensation for bodily injury, including 298 claims for respiratory ailments, 275 claims for anxiety or stress, and 261 claims for nausea. These claims have not received any of nearly $149 million in compensation that the company has paid out to date.
BP's inaction on bodily injury claims, the only category in which all claims remain unpaid, suggests that the company is still discussing its approach to claims that could establish its liability for illness and injury.
"I'm sure they're still defining their strategy on how they're going to handle the personal injury claims," said Andrew Klein, a professor of law at Indiana University. "They're going to be pretty cautious in paying personal injury until they have a better idea of what the scope of their liability is."
Bodily injury claims threaten to open the company up to a significant new area of damages. As we've reported, cleanup workers are continuing to report illnesses that they believe are caused by chemical exposure, and mental health counselors in Louisiana are finding increasing stress and anxiety in communities affected by the spill.
There are almost 400 more bodily injury claims than there are worker injuries or illnesses described in BP's most recent count, which covers data up to June 17.
BP spokesman Max McGahan said in an e-mail that "claims for bodily injury are still under review for compensability."
Many of the guidelines for determining a company's liability for an oil spill are set out in the 1990 Oil Pollution Act, a federal law passed in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez disaster. The law holds that a company is liable for "removal costs and damages resulting from an incident," but according to Professor Klein, it doesn't cover bodily injuries caused by workplace or environmental conditions.
A BP web page titled "How to Make a Claim" lists areas covered by the Oil Pollution Act, such as property damage, loss of earning capacity and cleanup costs, and then states: "BP also will evaluate all claims for bodily injury even though they are not payable under the Oil Spill Pollution Act of 1990."
The web page later lays out guidelines for documenting bodily injury claims. "You will need to provide medical records, medical bills, or pharmacy records to support the claim," it states.
We'll continue to follow BP's approach to bodily injury claims -- including whether the company still is planning to evaluate all of them.
(Photo of the Krewe of Dead Pelicans by Infrogmation via Wikimedia Commons.)