Monday, May 27, 2013

Local doc presses BP claims

Local doc presses BP claims

Posted: Wednesday, January 16, 2013 11:42 am
In the weeks, months and years following the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion, Dr. Mike Robichaux drew international attention as he cared for people he maintains were sickened by the incident’s aftermath, occasionally advocating on their behalf within the legal system.
And he’s not done.
The Mathews physician, who calls himself a “simple country doctor,” has been busy with a letter-writing campaign seeking to have the medical aspects of a class-action settlement re-defined. And although the federal judge overseeing the matter has approved a program for medical settlement that Robichaux faults, he is still not done.
“I realize that I’ve worn out my welcome over the last few months,” states a letter from Robichaux to U.S. District Court Judge Carl Barbier. “However, the health and care of my patients supersedes my reluctance to annoy you any further.”
Robichaux, a former Louisiana state senator and LSU football star, has also written the attorneys general of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. He wants them to look at his opinion – from a medical perspective – that the settlement process has been “corrupted” because it ignores matters he sees of clear medical importance.
Robichaux’s letter questions the manner in which claims of illness are being handled in the settlement. While court papers refer to various ailments related to exposure of people to crude oil and other chemicals, Robichaux says there is in no way enough emphasis on long-term effects. Chronic conditions that may still be developing as well as various cancers, in Robichaux’s opinion, are not being taken seriously. Failing to clearly state illnesses that he is convinced show signs of manifesting now, Robichaux maintains, could result in difficulty should people now involved in the settlement press claims of chronic illness later, even though there is some protection against that built into the settlement.
In December, Barbier issued a judgment certifying who qualifies for the class of people suffering economic and property damage due to the disaster and approved a settlement agreement.
Approval of the medical portion was announced late last week.
“Parts of the agreement between the Plaintiff Steering Committee, appointed by Judge Barbier, and BP relied on premises that, in my opinion, had no basis in fact and completely distorted the reality of the long-term consequences of these illnesses,” Robichaux said Monday in an interview.
Last spring, advocates for workers and residents saw the inclusion of potential compensation for future illness as a big plus while the litigation package was being hammered out. Robichaux says he is convinced, however, that the process does not go far enough.
Top among the credentials Robichaux presents as a man of medicine who should be heeded is the fact that he has personally treated people affected by the spill. Robichaux also opines that some of the most important chronic potentials are likely to mirror Gulf War illness.
He notes in his letter to Barbier a statement entered into the court record by Dr. Michael Harbut, a physician with impeccable background but who did not – in the court statement – refer to aspects of the longer-lasting medical problems.
Robichaux was disturbed by this, he said, because he has seen medical literature that shows Harbut and other experts who appear to be ignoring long-term aspects of exposure are well aware of the long-term risks.
“I was fascinated when I realized that he is an exceptional clinician and genuine ‘Good Guy,’ who is a formidable presence in our profession and in his medical specialty,” Robichaux told the judge.
Robichaux has advised Barbier that, in his opinion, the settlement contains flaws that could keep people who contracted chronic illnesses from being adequately compensated and getting the care that they need.
Robichaux’s letter is dated Dec. 7 and has not received a reply from Barbier.
The medical settlement program is limited in most cases to people living with certain physical proximity to the disaster, or who worked directly in its proximity during the cleanup.
Those people may still press claims at a later time if it is discovered that they have developed illnesses related to the spill. But Robichaux says that’s not good enough, that there should be a way to give greater assurance within the settlement.
Local attorneys involved with the litigation confirmed that there are options for people who may have other illnesses at a later time, but also acknowledged that they were not entirely sure of the limitations and that the claims they handle are largely been limited to those now before Barbier.
“It is my most sincere belief that the proposed agreement between BP and the Plaintiff Steering Committee has been severely corrupted and should be rejected,” Robichaux’s letter states.
Asked to explain in detail what he desires, Robichaux said the goal is for Barbier “to reject the medical part of the settlement. The chronic illnesses stated in there are false. This is supposed to be a true document. The attorneys will say it is the best we can get in negotiation.”
Robichaux notes that while people working on the attorney steering committee and representatives from BP got to speak at a recent hearing, the people most affected – those who say they are ill – did not.
“So there is no public record on any of these things, no record that these sick people existed,” the Mathews doctor said, complaining that the potentials for chronic illness have been cast into the land of “what if.”
Robichaux is not the only physician with a strong opinion about the process.
Dr. Kaye Kilburn, a Pasadena medical toxicologist who has seen patients with illnesses related to the spill, not only agrees with Robichaux, but says the geographic area used to determine who is eligible for a medical claim should be made bigger.
Kilburn said enough tests have not been done to ensure that all areas with potential wind-blown effects from burned oil and other chemicals during the cleanup process are identified.
“I have examined some of the people and Dr. Robichaux and I agree that we have a huge health problem that is being actively suppressed, in Raceland and all the way to Grand Isle,” Kilburn said in a telephone interview last week. “I think the problem is far wider, that it extends 200 or 300 miles from the site. What I found was lots of neurological impairments. These people in Louisiana, they are not complainers. They are stoic people. Some had few complaints but they showed with impairment of balance and slowing of reaction time, difficulty discriminating color. They had memory and brain fog, confusion. We have methods for doing objective testing on these things, on these concealed damages. An ordinary doctor would say it’s all in your head … but these doctors are misleading the people. This is the worst type of misjudgment and inhumanity.”
Robichaux and Kilburn have sought help from private donors for enough testing to be done to make a clear and convincing case to attorneys or to the courts.
Although he is receiving no compensation for his efforts, Robichaux said this weekend he plans to keep pressing the issue, even though the chances he will go unheard are great.
“There are a large number of formerly healthy American Citizens who have suffered life-altering illnesses as the result of exposure to chemicals released by a foreign corporation in American waters.” Robichaux said. “To the best of my knowledge, there has not been a penny paid out for the care of these individuals by this corporation and this corporation has been successful, to date, in obscuring the severity and extent of the illnesses being suffered by our fellow countrymen.”


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