Thousands of business owners, fishermen and others along the Gulf Coast are deciding whether to accept funds from BP now or sue the company and hope for a bigger payday in the future.
"Is the shrimp going to come back? Are the oysters going to survive? Are we going to have a market?," asked George Barisich, head of the United Commercial Fisherman's Association in Louisiana. "One lump settlement - should I take it if it's decent? Should I wait it out? It's on the back of everyone's minds right now. It's another one of the unknowns that's driving everyone sleepless right now."
The BP compensation fund is paying businesses and individuals for short-term losses and those who accept such interim checks do not have to sign away their right to sue. But starting sometime after Nov. 23, and continuing for three years, the fund will compensate victims for long-term losses, the Associated Press reports.
Attorney Kenneth Feinberg, who is running the fund under a deal between BP and the Obama administration, said in a recent interview that those who file a long-term claim will get a preview of their potential payout before they have to decide whether to accept it. If they don't like it, they can sue.
As of last week, more than 51,000 interim claims had been submitted, including more than 44,000 for lost earnings. Of the total, 10,252 claims had been paid, for a total of almost $80 million.
More than 300 lawsuits have been filed, but the plaintiffs can withdraw them if they decide to accept a payout from the compensation fund.