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4.19.2011

think the gulf oil spill sucked? try dealing with the claims process.

A year after the devastatating Gulf Coast oil spill that affected the livelihood of an entire region, tens of thousands of residents who filed claims with BP have yet to see a dime. Frustrated by the process, man have actively sought legal help to cover loss of income or property damage: Many Hit by Spill Now Feel Caught in Claim Process.

Not surprisingly, somewhere along the way, things have gotten overly complicated. Many residents have turned to local lawyers, who in turn refer their clients to larger law firms with the experience and resources to battle big corporations. With this many entities involved, one could easily lose track of who is representing who:
In cases where there seems to have been a breakdown — like the one involving Mr. Nguyen, who found himself listed as a client of a lawyer named Mikal C. Watts, and to his further surprise, as a Louisiana shrimper rather than a Mississippi shipyard worker — it is hard to know where the breakdown occurred.

Last summer and fall, numerous Vietnamese households — including some who say they were not even affected by the spill — received letters signed by Mr. Watts, of San Antonio. The letters, in Vietnamese, addressed some recipients by name and others as: "Dear Client." The letters directed people to send their financial records and added, "Do not sign anything from BP or anyone else except Watts Guerra Craft," the name of the firm.

"As far as I know almost every other house got it," said Felix Cao, a law student at Loyola University in New Orleans. "I don’t know how they even found my address."

Mr. Cao said he did not know whether he had become a client or simply a marketing target. He said he was not affected by the spill.

Nor was Nga Nguyen, who lives in New Orleans and also received one of the letters. "I think they just went through the phone book," she said.
Sounds rather shady to me. You have all these people trying to get their money, only to discover the funds have to go through the law firm they can't recall ever hiring in the first place? To call it miscommunication is an understatement -- this is a breakdown in the process.