ABA Journal

Biloxi Blues: Legal-Cost Fears Have Victims of the Oil Spill Sliding out of the Middle Class

That was it. Nothing more could be done. Two years after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon, Tina Copeland’s American dream was over. Her Mississippi Gulf Coast business was hemorrhaging funds, her marriage torn apart.

Though billions were offered to settle damages from the April 2010 disaster, the formal process she faced devolved into a prolonged battle with administrators over the legitimacy of tax records, of financial documents and of letters from lost clients saying they could no longer afford Copeland’s day care service because of diminished wages of their own. Always something was said to be missing from her file. By the time her claim was finally denied, Copeland had given up hope. “I had no idea of what to do,” she says, “no idea there was another option.”

A soft-spoken, dignified woman, her diction is clear and her voice warm. She picks at the lace tablecloth in her stuffed-to-the-rafters apartment that now holds what was once spread through her Long Beach, Miss., house. And speaking of what she had and lost, she cries. She doesn’t sob or weep uncontrollably, but her voice catches, as if she is embarrassed to be crying—and even more embarrassed to be in this position.

Asked why she didn’t seek the advice of a lawyer to save the company she’d founded nearly 25 years ago, she shakes her head: “Oh my God, I can’t even imagine,” unable to fathom a cost she assumes would have been insurmountable.

Copeland is one of hundreds of thousands of claimants along the Gulf Coast still seeking compensation from a complex settlement system. But she’s also part of a larger group of working and middle-class Americans besieged by sudden reversals of fortune in the wake of the Great Recession—whether by natural disasters, foreclosures, bankruptcies, collections, employment disputes or simple domestic relations issues.

Click here to read the rest of “Biloxi Blues” from the November issue of the ABA Journal.

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