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BP can deny claims of anyone suing it, Florida warns

The State of Florida is advising people who want to sue BP for damages from the oil spill to wait if they have a legitimate monetary claim, warning that the company can deny claims from people who have brought court action, NBC station WJHG of Panama City reports.

State officials say claimants should try to work with BP to get their claims paid now, because they'll have three years to decide about a suit even if they're taking the company's money:

[I]f people think they are being treated unfairly and sue BP, then the company can hold back their claims until a judge rules.

And that could take years, according to Bob Butterworth, a former attorney general and member of the state's legal council in charge of keeping BP honest.

"They can pay a lawyer 10, 20, or 30, or 40 percent which could also keep you tied up in court for maybe 10 years, and 20 years later, there's still claims out there."

It's not just fishermen and business owners who are holding off on filing a claim, WJHG reports — so is the state itself. Attorney General Bill McCollum says that he hopes Florida can be reimbursed without a lawsuit but that he's keeping his options open.