BP's Dubious Track Record Settling Claims

Ralph Dean
Ralph Dean, who fought for BP to pay his wife's medical expenses after she was involved in an accident in 2005.
It's the public promise from the very public face of BP:

"What we have done so far is to pay every claim that has been presented to us and we will continue to do that," Tony Hayward said.

A promise from the start to "Make it Right" to all those harmed by the spill.

"If you turn up at the claims office, within 48 hours you're given a check," Hayward said.

But those words ring hollow now to fishermen still waiting to be paid, businessmen getting pennies on the dollar, and especially to those who have heard it all before - men like Ralph Dean, reports CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian.

"If they make it right, it's because they were forced to make it right," Dean said. "You've got to drag everything out of them. Every last nickel."

Dean was a rigging foreman working at the BP oil refinery in Texas City, Texas, in March 2005 when a fuel tower at the refinery exploded. Dean's coworkers, including his wife and father-in-law were buried in the rubble.

"I ran towards the trailer because I knew my wife was in there," Dean said.

This bear of man dug through the wreckage with his bare hands.

"I remember seeing a piece of insulation start to bleed and … it was the top of my wife's head," Dean said.

Alisa Dean was burned over 20 percent of her body. Her lungs collapsed, her neck and back were broken, but she was alive. Her father Larry Thomas died instantly. Fourteen others were killed, 170 injured. As part of this July 2005 legal settlement - BP promised to pay "All medical expenses incurred by Alisa Dean" and others.

"Same kind of promises they're making now," Dean said. "That my wife's medical bills would be paid."

Special Section: Disaster in the Gulf
BP Oil Spill Is Now The Largest Ever In Gulf
Huge Skimming Ship Headed for Gulf Oil Spill
Fears Over Slick Spread Along Coast
Alex Halts Skimming, Sends Tar Balls Ashore
Bad Weather Halts Spill Relief

But BP didn't pay the bills. And three months later the Deans got a lien from the hospital on all of the family assets, for unpaid medical bills totaling more than $600,000.

"They decided not to pay the bills because they just didn't feel like they had to," said Rene Haas, an attorney for the Deans.

The Deans' lawyer wrote five letters to BP's law firm asking the company to honor its commitment and got no response. It appears BP never intended to pay.

In this letter obtained by CBS News, BP lawyers wrote to Alisa Dean's insurance company. Despite spending three months in a burn unit - half that time in a coma- the letter refers to her burns as "alleged injuries" and claims the Deans, not BP, were "required to reimburse you 100 percent."

"It's trauma upon trauma upon trauma," Haas said. "It's unfairness on top of unfairness."

So unfair the Deans were forced to sue BP in April 2006 to get what they were promised. Then just before the trial, one full year after Alisa left the hospital BP finally paid. A company spokesman at the time called it all an "inadvertent administrative delay."

What advice would Dean give to the families and victims of Deepwater?

"Whatever you get, you're going to have to fight for it, so get ready for a long fight," Dean said.