BP oil spill accord will track related health issues, compensate victims

March 4, 2012

A settlement that BP is working out with victims of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico will provide a system for monitoring health concerns and compensating people whose illnesses are found to have a link to the disaster.

Government and university doctors studying locals’ health haven’t found significant evidence of spill-related illnesses, but problems years from now remain a question mark. Gulf Coast residents say they’re happy that their complaints are getting a serious look, even if they’ll face hurdles in proving that rashes, shortness of breath and other maladies were caused by the oil or the chemical dispersants sprayed to break it up.

Under the settlement announced Friday, BP said it expects to pay $7.8 billion for a variety of claims that also include property damage, lost wages and loss to businesses. Although a previously created fund had been paying such economic loss claims, it hadn’t paid claims over illnesses related to exposure.

Nicole Maurer, a resident of this fishing community, said she feels optimistic about having medical bills paid under the court-supervised process. She blames the spill for a number of her family’s health problems.

“Bright and early, I’m getting my kids on the school bus and calling my lawyer tomorrow, and see what’s going on,” she said Sunday.

Claimants will have to show that they became sick from the spill. To receive compensation, they will be examined by a court-approved health-care practitioner. Then, a claims administrator working under the supervision of a federal judge will determine who should be paid.

The settlement also will establish a program to monitor claimants’ health for 21 years. People whose physical symptoms haven’t yet developed will also be able to pursue claims. BP has promised to pay $105 million to improve health care in the Gulf region.

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