Miami lawyer Ervin Gonzalez has been on the forefront of many a controversial case, from medical malpractice to the desecration of graves in a Jewish cemetery. Whether hes fighting for a parent or thousands in a class action suit, like the recent $7.8 billion Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill settlement, Gonzalez is passionate about making a difference.
Im a civil attorney, says Gonzalez, talking from New Orleans, where he was working on issues relating to the BP case. I cant put people in jail or fine them. I have no political power.... But I have the power of what a jury can do when a victim is wronged, he says.
In a 2005 case, for instance, a Miami jury awarded a $65.1 million verdict against Eller Media Company for the electrocution death of his clients 12-year-old son. The jury found that the boys death was caused by shoddy electrical work performed at one of its Miami bus shelters, where he had gone for cover during a storm. Problems were then discovered in other shelters, and today, most are lit by solar panels mounted on the roof rather than by electricity.
My job is to do the right thing, and through that process, impact important change., says Gonzalez. Im fortunate to be able to pursue a practice that allows me to do what I love the most.
Gonzalez answered questions about the BP settlement and how it differs from other similar suits.
Q. What are the terms of the proposed Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill settlement?
The basic goal and achievement of the settlement was to compensate all individuals and businesses affected by the BP oil spill for all economic losses. This settlement does exactly that, providing for incredible flexibility and transparency. The settlement not only provides various options for how actual losses are calculated, but importantly, provide for Risk Transfer Premium (RTP) value that serve as a multiplier to compensate for the risk for future losses and other damages.
Q. Who are the beneficiaries of the settlement?
The settlement applies to a class based on geographic boundaries from Texas to the Florida Keys. The settlement is limited to the Gulf Coast and West Coast of Florida, but includes all of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Anyone who worked and lived within these geographic limits that can prove a loss of income will be compensated as beneficiaries.
Q. How many people have been paid so far?
The claims facility is up and running and is working to process the thousands of claims already pending. Payments are expected to start this summer. The most current estimates indicate that the first determinations will be made in August 2012.
Q. How did you get involved?
I was appointed by Judge Carl Barbier to the National Plaintiffs Steering Committee. The Court selected two attorneys from Florida on this 19-person committee out of hundreds of applicants and I was fortunate to have been selected to serve on the case. (The other Florida lawyer was Brian H. Barr of Pensacola.)
Q. What was your role in the settlement negotiations?
I am a member of the Plaintiffs Steering Committee, and the PSC negotiated and ultimately signed the final settlement agreement that has been preliminarily approved by Judge Barbier.
Q. BP has estimated the value of the settlement at $7.8 billion. Is that a fair estimate?