NEW ORLEANS -- After running the BP Medical Settlement for six months, the court-appointed claims administrator reported Friday that he's approved just 148 out of the 10,600 claims he's received.
Meanwhile, administrator Matt Garretson says he's denied 1,373 claimants, ruled 670 claims defective and asked for more information on another 8,069.
The numbers make even more significant a recent controversial decision by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier that cuts thousands of claimants out of the category that is eligible for payments now.
Garretson's second quarterly progress report to Barbier notes that 'claimants are having significant difficulty completing the Proof of Claim Form on their first attempt.'
Garretson said common defects include failure to submit medical records, failure to make a proper declaration to the claims center or inadequate proof that the claimant was a cleanup worker or resided in the specified zones along the coast that qualify under the settlement.
Garretson said he's trying to address the issue by assigning liaisons to high-volume law firms, ones that represent at least 50 claimants. But the problem persists, the report says, because many claimants are not represented by attorneys and their response rate when contacted about deficiencies in their claims is just 44 percent.
Even in rare cases where claims are approved, they tend to be of the smaller variety. The average claim payment approved is just $1,642, near the lower end of the payment scale the settlement sets for different types of skin and respiratory conditions that appeared during cleanup operations. The largest payment for Specified Chronic Conditions is $60,700.
But this has been the source of another problem for the medical settlement. As WWL-TV first exposed last week, Garretson sides with BP in a dispute over the definition of two major types of claims: Specified Physical Conditions that are payable now, and Later-Manifested Physical Conditions that must wait for back-end litigation.
Garretson's policy decision, upheld last month by Barbier, relegates thousands of claimants to the back-end litigation years category.
BP, Garretson and Barbier say that a plain reading of the settlement sets April 16, 2012, as a cut-off date for diagnosing a physical condition, and anyone diagnosed after that date has a 'Later-Manifested Physical Condition' under the settlement even if it actually manifested within 24 to 72 hours of being exposed to the oil or chemicals.
Plaintiffs' attorneys say as many as 20,000 claims for the types of Specified Physical Conditions that Garretson is supposed to pay now are now being considered Later-Manifested Physical Condition claims that need to go through a separate court process.
Those lawyers have asked Barbier to reconsider his ruling, arguing that there is no deadline in the agreement by which a doctor must have diagnosed an illness that a cleanup worker noticed right away.
Cleanup worker Jose Santamaria of Kenner told WWL-TV that he couldn't leave work at the time when he developed the rashes from handling absorbent boom. He said he couldn't have known he needed to go to a doctor to address it until the class-action was filed, which was on the cutoff date of April 16, 2012.
Lawyers say they have thousands of clients who would qualify for Specified Physical Condition payments, but could not afford to go to a doctor in 2010 and 2011 because they had no health insurance.