Patrick Juneau is ready to get his life back.
For the past four years, the Lafayette lawyer has served as the court-appointed administrator of BP's multibillion-dollar settlement program to compensate victims of the 2010 oil spill.
Since opening in June 2012, Juneau's claims facility has processed more than 386,000 claim forms, according to statistics provided to The Advocate. As of Sept. 22, the program had issued eligibility notices affirming the validity of more than 152,000 claims, with payment offers totaling more than $9.2 billion. More than 141,500 claims have been denied.
Now the end is in sight: Six of the 10 claim categories have been finalized, and next week, eligibility notices will be issued for the third and final distribution of a $2.3 billion program to compensate the seafood industry for its losses.
Juneau is optimistic that his work will be completely finished in a year.
"I'd like to be finished. That's my goal. That's what I'm pushing for," Juneau, 78, said Thursday from his Central Business District office.
Eleven men died when the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig caught fire and exploded on April 20, 2010, about 50 miles off the Louisiana coast. Millions of barrels of oil poured into the Gulf of Mexico and onto Gulf Coast wetlands and beaches.
The 1,000-page class-action settlement, which plaintiffs' attorneys reached with BP in 2012, was intended to avoid piecemeal litigation by setting up a mechanism to resolve hundreds of thousands of claims for economic damages stemming from one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history.
To simplify things, the pact called for treating all claimants who lived in a given area along the Gulf Coast similarly if they could show a loss of income after disaster, regardless of the reason for the loss.
BP initially estimated the 2012 deal would cost it $7.8 billion. The figure is now up to $9.2 billion and certain to grow further.
The remaining work includes processing tens of thousands of unresolved business claims for economic loss. Out of nearly 134,500 such claims, about 94,300 have been resolved, with about $6.2 billion in eligibility notices already issued.
"There are claims that have been filed by major Fortune 500 companies, huge claims that could still exist," Juneau said. "The records, just to analyze claims like that, are huge. It would fill up this room."
Although BP and the Plaintiffs' Steering Committee, the group of lawyers who reached the deal, jointly heaped praise on the settlement during a federal court hearing in late 2012, the good feelings didn't last long. A nearly two-year battle over the settlement's terms then played out in federal district and appeals courts.
Billions of dollars in claims awards were held up by BP's repeated efforts to challenge Juneau's interpretation of the settlement.
When Juneau began swiftly paying claims in large numbers in 2013, BP tried to have him removed, saying he had "hijacked the settlement" and misinterpreted which claimants should qualify. The company appealed up to the U.S. Supreme Court, blocking all business loss payments for nearly a year.
The high court ultimately refused to consider BP's argument that businesses should have to prove the oil spill caused them direct financial losses in order to collect from the 2012 settlement.
Some victims of the spill contend that the repeated delays kept BP's money from making them whole because they didn't get the money in a timely manner.
"We're past four years from when we accepted a settlement," said Clint Guidry, a former head of the Louisiana Shrimp Association, adding that "BP's a lot at fault because of the challenges that they did and they kind of put Juneau in the middle of it."
But more than a year after Juneau helped broker BP's record $18.7 billion settlement with the federal government and the five Gulf Coast states that were impacted by the incident, the public squabbling has subsided.
"We are pleased the (court-supervised settlement program) has reached this milestone and look forward to working collaboratively with the claims facility as they process the remaining claims," Brett Clanton, a BP spokesman, said Thursday.
Juneau agreed. "It used to be difficult to have meetings, but we have those now. It's a different day, different time, different circumstance, but the results are incredible," he said. "We're pumping these cases out as we speak. Is it fast enough? You always want it faster, but I don't think a lot of people understand the complexity."