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Lawyers slam $20 billion BP claims fund

Lawyers involved in litigation over the oil spill say they were shocked to learn that BP is allowed to use the $20 billion fund it set up last week for purposes other than compensating people suffering economic losses, including paying litigation costs.

"That was sold to the American public as a compensation fund. And now we have learned that they can use it for whatever the heck they want to use it for," Robert Kennedy, an environmental lawyer and activist, told Reuters at a conference today in Atlanta on litigation over the spill. "It's another subterfuge by BP, one of the many that we have discovered recently."

Reuters quotes Perry Weitz, a prominent tort lawyer who spoke at the conference: "Imagine if BP uses a significant portion for clean-up costs. What's left for the victims?"

Michael Rozen, a partner in the law firm administering the fund, acknowledged that the money "is available for all manner of costs," but he stressed that all legitimate claimants would be paid.

"Twenty billion maybe isn't sufficient for the mass of stuff that's aired, in which case BP will have to add more," he said. "If that should be the case, people still have their rights and remedies under law."