BY: Brendan Kirby

Attorneys representing people and businesses who sued BP PLC after the 2010 Gulf oil spill filed the proposed settlement agreement this morning describing how tens of thousands of plaintiffs will be paid.

The 77-page document recounts the massive litigation, which has some 110,000 named plaintiffs, and fills in the broad parameters outlined when the attorneys announced the settlement last month. The document lays out who is eligible for compensation, how they must demonstrate losses and other considerations.

The agreement caps damages at $2.3 billion for seafood harvesters, but has no limit on damages for other victims. BP officials have estimated that the settlement would cost $7.8 billion.

New Orleans-based U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, who was appointed to preside over the oil spill lawsuits, will now consider the preliminary settlement. If he signs off on it, a Lafayette, Louisiana, lawyer who took over for former claims administrator Ken Feinberg will have 30 days to implement it.

The lawyer, Patrick Juneau, has been paying claims under the old rules.

“The claims center has never closed. It’s just under new management,” said Rhon Jones, an attorney with the Beasley Allen law firm in Montgomery.

BP and the plaintiffs’ lawyers have agreed to allow Juneau to begin implementing the new system even before Barbier issues a final order.

“There’s a crash course going on now” to learn and apply the terms of the settlement, Juneau said.

Several lawyers on the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee, which negotiated the settlement, said Juneau will have a measure of independence that Feinberg -- who ultimately answered to BP -- never did.

Juneau said he answers to the court, alone. “I don’t report to BP. I don’t report to the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee,” he said.

Robert Cunningham, an attorney with the Cunningham Bounds law firm in Mobile, said reaching the settlement less than two years after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig represents a monumental achievement. He noted that attorneys took more than 300 depositions, spending about a month in London questioning top BP officials under oath.

“It was remarkably fast,” agreed Tulane University Law School professor Edward Sherman, who has closely followed the proceedings.

Cunningham, who served on the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee, said he believes the settlement will prove to be a good deal for his clients. Still, he acknowledged a twinge of regret that he will not get the opportunity to participate in what promised to be a blockbuster trial.

“When you get ready for the big game, you want to play it,” he said. “It would have been the trial of the century.”