Farmers and agriculture-related businesses in much of the Southeast and Mid-South are eligible to be a part of the settlement stemming from the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Billions of dollars are available to those whose businesses suffered due to the spill.

Attorneys and claims adjusters working with settlement claims say too few residents in eligible states know they can sign up.

“In Mississippi, particularly the Delta region, we’re in Zone D for purposes of the settlement,” says John Daniels, an attorney in Greenville, Miss. “Farmers – actually, any eligible businessperson in the region – really need to strongly consider looking into this.”

One claims adjuster tells Farm Press that farming clients have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in the settlement.

Read settlement details here.

On March 5, a decision came down from the U.S. Eastern District Court of Louisiana concerning a review of the settlement agreement and how it applies, particularly to farmers, and how to match revenues to expenses.

How quickly have the farmers Daniels represents gotten relief? If they file tomorrow, will it be a year or two before seeing a check?

“Before the end of December, 2012, claims were being processed — at least in my judgment for those that were qualified — rapidly,” says Daniels. “The process has since slowed somewhat as BP has appealed some of the decisions and requests, has asked for a stay of some of the matters related to agriculture.”

That’s one reason the decision from Louisiana’s Eastern District Court is so important, says Daniels. “I think the decision defines and addresses a lot of the issues BP was bringing up. Now, I think the claims process will pick up speed.”

Claimants may have a, “two to six month wait, depending on your claim, how it was submitted, and the back-up information included. It’s better to get everything in together rather than piecemeal. That’s why it’s important to choose a lawyer who has done it before, who knows what they’re doing and can get the entire package in so there won’t be delays due to documentation.”

Eligibility formula

Is there an eligibility formula farmers can take to their accountant or attorney?

“Generally speaking, Certified Public Accountants and lawyers should be tuned into all this,” says Daniels. “What the settlement calls for is, ‘a decline of an aggregate of 15 percent, or more, in total revenues over a three-month consecutive period between May and December of 2010.’ That is to be followed by, ‘an increase in of an aggregate of 10 percent or more in total revenues over the same period compared in 2010 in 2011.’”

In other words, an eligible operation would have seen a down-tick of 15 percent in three consecutive months in 2010 followed by an uptick of 10 percent of the same months in 2011.

“Say, you look at May, June and July in 2010 and find your aggregate revenues dropped by 15 percent, or more. Then, a year later – May, June and July in 2011 – your business saw an increase of 10 percent. That’s the elementary way of seeing if an operation is eligible.”

Later, it gets a bit more definitive, of course. “You must reconcile your tax returns and other things. But all of that is kind of lagniappe because you first must pass the causation test.

“To consider eligibility, you’ll look strictly at your business — say, John Doe Farms. Once you pass the causation test, there’s the potential of having a claim for economic relief as a result of the BP oil spill.”

Are the claims based strictly on John Doe Farms’ losses or is there a punitive measure available, as well?

“There are formulas to consider,” says Daniels. “However, first the claim would be based on the farm’s revenue and expenses — what was lost, what was gained in the aforementioned time periods.

“Once you make the initial review, you can get into the process deeper with your accountant and lawyer.”

Financial exposure for claimants is limited with many attorneys typically paid only once a claim is successful. Under settlement provisions, accountant fees may be paid by BP.  

Those eligible for the BP settlement, “might be working in the tourist industry to the local mom-and-pop restaurant to farms,” says Jeremiah Sturgeon, of Gecon, a disaster-relief business. “The economic loss for these areas due to the spill was very severe.”

Sturgeon says Gecon is, “helping in the neighborhood of 10,000 individuals and businesses, right now. We talk to a lot of people who say, ‘we didn’t even know we could file, didn’t know we were eligible.’

Why are so many uninformed about this?

“There wasn’t a whole lot of advertising about this,” says Sturgeon. “If you were BP would you have done a lot of advertising? They’re expected to pay out about $8 billion. There is no cap on that amount, though — it was just a guess and could be much more. Already, $2 billion has been paid out in the last few months to settle claims.”

The deadline for signing up for the settlement is April 14, 2014.

“Immediately after someone signs up with us, we file the claim,” says Sturgeon. “Then, we go into work on the settlement process, showing the numbers, in order to get the most pay-out.” 

dbennett@farmpress.com

 

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