Last Modified: Thursday, July 19, 2012 5:55 PM
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal judge presiding over a proposed class-action settlement of BP oil spill claims ordered a website operator Thursday to post disclaimers on two sites to avoid misleading visitors into believing they are filing official claims.
U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier said an existing disclaimer on one of the sites — deepwaterhorizonsettlementclaims.com — "does not cure the misleading nature of the site."
"Rather, the statement that 'we offer an independent service to maximize your claim' leads a viewer to believe that the site may even be better than the official site, if he or she picks up the distinction," Barbier said.
Barbier ordered William Bohack, who also operates bpclaims.org, to post a "prominent banner" at the top of every page on both sites to make it clear they aren't the court-authorized site. The site where residents can submit claims is deepwaterhorizonsettlements.com.
Bohack said he doesn't believe his sites are misleading but will comply with the judge's order.
"We don't want to be mistaken for their website whatsoever," Bohack said during a telephone interview.
In May, Barbier gave preliminary approval to a settlement proposal to resolve claims by more than 100,000 people and businesses who blame economic losses on the 2010 spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The proposed settlement doesn't have a cap, but BP estimates it will pay about $7.8 billion to resolve these claims.
The Gulf Coast Claims Facility paid more than $6 billion to claimants before a court-supervised administrator, Patrick Juneau, took over the process in March. Juneau told Barbier that a claimant called his office to inquire about the status of his claim only to discover that he had filed it on one of Bohack's sites.
Juneau said his office has fielded several calls from people confused about the sites.
"It's something that can be easily fixed," he said.
The bpclaims.org site bills itself as a "distinguished organization that takes pride in our ability to organize, file, and get your claim through the grueling process so that you get the money you deserve."
Bohack said his sites refer callers to accountants and attorneys who can help them with their claim. The accountants and attorneys pay fees for the referrals, he added.