The Obama administration released a statement on Thursday that it is considering asking Congressional lawmakers to pass legislation forcing BP to assume full liability for the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and thus compel the company to pay damages to a wide variety of businesses and individuals adversely affected by the environmental disaster.
The spill – the result of an underwater explosion at the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform on April 20 – has already caused 11 deaths and 17 injuries, along with immeasurable damage to the ecosystem. The resultant oil slick now covers nearly 10,000 square miles, and has directly impacted the livelihoods of everyone from coastal business owners to oil workers left jobless by the U.S. government’s emergency moratorium on deep sea drilling.
The stern measures being discussed by the White House would leave BP no option but to pay out settlements in a flood of lawsuits that is growing almost as quickly as the slick itself. At present, the company claims to have paid out more than 18,000 claims to parties impacted by the catastrophe, but has not made public the details of these settlements or the identities of the recipients. While such payouts will undoubtedly continue long after the spill has been contained, questions persist regarding the federal government’s authority to force the company’s hand through legislation.
In particular, the question of wages lost by oil workers laid off during the crisis has some legal experts doubting the administration’s chances of following through on its threats. Current Justice Department officials are eyeing a clause in the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 which states that oil companies are responsible for any damages resulting from an “impairment of earning capacity” suffered by workers in the wake of a spill. A former Justice Department staffer, however, believes BP attorneys would counter with the claim that it is the government-mandated moratorium, not the spill, which is keeping workers off the job.
Many observers believe the White House is using strong language to pressure BP into assuming a greater measure of responsibility for the crisis on its own, but former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich has suggested that the federal government may take even more drastic action. By placing BP into temporary receivership, Reich argues, the Obama administration could effectively ensure that all claims and expenses are covered.
Though such a controversial measure seems unlikely, some legal experts believe anything less than decisive action by the administration could result in many people left without compensation for the hardships brought on by the spill. They cite the 1982 bankruptcy of insulation manufacturer Johns-Manville Corporation, which settled the company’s debt but left little to cover the pending claims of consumers suffering from asbestos-related injuries resulting from exposure to its products.
If you own or operate property or a business that has been affected by the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, contact Newsome Law Firm and fill out a case evaluation form today. Our team of attorneys has experience specific to complications associated with environmental disasters. Not only can they give you the legal guidance you need, they can help you get the compensation you deserve.