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Southern University System Awaiting Final Word on BP Settlement

NEW ORLEANS ― BP PLC’s $18.7 billion settlement for its 2010 oil spill may not end lawsuits filed by two public university systems against the oil giant, a newspaper reported Sunday.

Since many details are under wraps, it hasn’t been clear whether the settlement includes the universities, but the attorney handling the university systems’ claims issued a statement last week saying he believes those claims remain open, The New Orleans Advocate reported.

The Louisiana attorney general’s office did not respond to requests for comment. BP spokesman Geoff Morrell declined comment.

No public colleges or universities in Mississippi filed claims against BP, according to the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office.

The University of West Florida in Pensacola, which has nearly 12,000 students, settled its claims for nearly $178,000, spokeswoman Megan Gonzalez said Friday.

The UL and Southern systems were the only public colleges or universities in Louisiana to sue BP over the disaster. Attorneys for the schools filed the claims in 2013 for lost revenue, property damage and civil and punitive damages.

The University of Louisiana System initially claimed more than $132 million in losses, while the Southern University System pegged its damages at about $99 million.

After further review, the total losses are now estimated to be closer to $274 million.

BP’s settlement included up to $1 billion set aside for more than 500 claims filed by local governments along the Gulf Coast.

“As institutions of higher learning, the claims of the two systems are unique from local government and other state claims. These claims remain unresolved,” Baton Rouge lawyer Winston DeCuir Sr., who is handling the universities’ claims, said in the statement issued last Monday.

Southern, which has more than 15,000 students across five campuses including Baton Rouge and New Orleans, said in its claim that its campuses are located in areas especially hard-hit by the spill. It estimated that the spill cost it nearly 11,000 students.

The 100,000-student University of Louisiana System said five of its eight universities ― the University of New Orleans, Nicholls State in Thibodaux, McNeese State in Lake Charles, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond ― are in severely affected areas.

The University of New Orleans’ claim against BP was initially for almost $124 million, by far the largest part of the total UL claim. The school said enrollment fell after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 but had rebounded until the 2010 oil spill.

“As the economy of New Orleans suffered greatly, the economic hardships of the region were reflected in continually diminished enrollment,” according to an economic analysis that accompanied UNO’s 2013 filing.

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