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U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier said claims czar Ken Feinberg and any of his agents must change the way they communicate with people seeking money from the fund. The ruling came just hours after Feinberg released details on how final payments would be determined.

The ruling cuts at the heart of one of Feinberg's central arguments that because he's independent, thousands of people who have been denied money or received less than they feel they deserve should trust his decisions. And it could prompt more people to sue rather than accept relatively quick settlements with the fund, raising the potential for further uncertainty and liability for BP.

Barbier said Feinberg must clearly disclose in all communications that he is acting for and on behalf of BP in fulfilling its obligations as the responsible party under the Oil Pollution Act.

However, Barbier stopped short of ordering changes to a release form people who accept final payments from the fund must sign. He asked lawyers to submit additional briefs to the court on that, as well as address the question of whether BP is fully complying with the law in the processing of claims.

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