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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Gulf Coast victims continue to face obstacles

One year after the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, many are assessing the process of recovery for those who suffered economic losses or property damage. Alliance for Justice released a report today which provides detailed analysis of the continuing struggle for fair and timely compensation one year after the Gulf oil spill, and investigates whether the legal system is working fairly to provide those affected with adequate compensation.

The New York Times reported yesterday that many affected by the Gulf spill have attempted to file a claim with the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF), only to find that claims have already been filed on their behalf by lawyers they never hired. Vietnamese-Americans in the Gulf coast report being misled into signing legal retainers and being told they were signing up for financial or medical assistance. In many cases they dealt with a contractor hired by local lawyers recruiting clients to the large firms taking part in the multi-district litigation against BP. As the New York Times reports:
“The problem in many cases seems to have started at the ground level. Here in Bayou La Batre, Vietnamese people tell of contractors who allowed relatives to sign them up in absentia, or who encouraged potential clients to sign official-looking forms — in English — without explaining that the forms were legal retainers. The stories vary but the same few names come up.

Having heard similar reports last September, Lan Diep, an Equal Justice Works and AmeriCorps fellow working on the Gulf Coast, visited the office of one such contractor, in a ranch house just outside of town.

Not letting on that he spoke English, Mr. Diep was told by a man at the house that he could get money simply by filling out a form and handing over some financial documents. He was given a retainer for Brent Coon and Associates, a Texas law firm, he said, but was not told that he was signing up for a lawyer nor was he allowed to keep a copy for himself.”
Alliance for Justice’s new report argues that more widespread access to the free legal services available through the GCCF would help protect claimants from predatory lawyering. Information about legal aid must be made more prominent and available. All GCCF claims information, moreover, should be written in non-technical, accessible language, and made available to non-English speakers.

Read One Year After the Gulf Oil Spill: Is Justice Being Served? and learn more about Alliance for Justice’s full list of recommendations and the ongoing fight for justice in the Gulf.

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