CPAs sponsor Webinar on BP oil spill reimbursement process

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CPA societies from Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, in cooperation with the Accounting CPE Network (ACPEN) and BizVision, are sponsoring a Webinar designed for CPAs whose clients are filing claims for costs and damages through the BP reimbursement process.

The course, British Petroleum Oil Spill Reimbursement Process, which has been produced by the Florida Institute of Certified Public Accountants (FICPA), qualifies for four hours of CPE credit, and is free to members of these five state CPA societies: FICPA, TSCPA, ASCPA, MSCPA, and LCPA. Members and nonmembers can register for the Webinar through the state societies' Web sites or the ACPEN site.

Originally presented August 24, the course will be repeated September 1, at 8 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. CDT.

On August 23, the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF), administered by Kenneth R. Feinberg, assumed responsibility for assisting claimants in filing claims for costs and damages incurred as a result of the oil spill. Claims previously filed with the BP Claims Process have been transitioned to the GCCF for review, evaluation, and determination by the GCCF.

Experts already working in the BP claims reimbursement area, and Jackie Zins from Kenneth Feinberg's office, discuss claims filing, documentation of loss, fraud concerns, liability issues, and an impacted party's legal rights using real-life examples. The course concludes with a roundtable discussion of issues raised by participants, including fees, timing of filing and payments, and potential for additional guidance coming from the courts.

Tracy Conerly, CPA, partner at Carr, Riggs & Ingram, LLC, in Destin, Florida, addresses the two major hurdles of making a claim - eligibility and proving causation. She presents four factors a claimant should keep in mind. Claimants must:

  1. Prove proximity to the Gulf.
  2. If not close, explain how business is dependent on the Gulf. (i.e., beach, fishing, natural resources).
  3. Clearly explain your industry and nature of industry (i.e., fish market vs. steakhouse). Narrative will be as important as the loss calculations.
  4. Prove your claim.

Conerly details documentation requirements for different kinds of claims - lost earnings, cleanup costs, and real or property damage - providing examples in each case.

Accountants should be prepared to help their clients with documentation, trends analysis, and potential tax liabilities, according to Conerly. The GCCF will issue 1099s with payments.

Marta Alfonso, CPA/CFF, JD, a specialist in forensic accounting at Miami-based Morrison Brown Argiz & Farra LLP, discusses fraud concerns, identifies red flags, and recommends forensic accounting procedures that can be applied by practitioners to prevent oil spill claims fraud. She discusses forensic accounting procedures that can be anticipated from the GCCF to prevent claims fraud and explains the emotional dynamics that can lead to fraud.

Phillip S. Howell, J.D., CPA, Galloway, Johnson, Tompkins Burr & Smith, PLC in Tampa, FL, and Stanley D. Sterna, J.D, a specialist in accountants' professional liability in Chicago, review lessons learned from experience with recent disasters in the region and discuss unforeseen liabilities and potential areas of risk to CPAs.

Firms should beware the expectation gap and be careful if they do not have experience with industries or the type of engagement, Howell and Sterna said. They emphasize the importance of engagement letters and the content of engagement letters.

John E. Tomlinson, an attorney with Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles, P.C. in Montgomery, AL, explains the rights of impacted parties. He points out that GCCF is not an entity established by statute, and some legal questions might be decided in court.

BP cases have recently been consolidated (Multi District Liability - MDL) in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. Tomlinson points out that the proof of proximity required by the GCCF reimbursement process is not mentioned in the Oil Pollution Act. While BP is the responsible party right now, other companies like TransOcean and Halliburton may be considered responsible as a result of future litigation.

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