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Problems Ahead for Deepwater Horizon Disaster Plaintiffs

May 5, 2010 – As Gulf Coast businesses and residents brace for the full fallout of the catastrophic April 20th BP oil rig explosion, potential plaintiffs seeking damages from the company remain largely in the dark as to what to expect in the coming weeks and months.

The uncertainty comes on the heels of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision coupled with a liability cap imposed by federal law. These events have some advocates worried, as the court’s decision and liability cap could make it hard for some plaintiffs to recover economic damages.

“It will make it exceedingly more difficult for commercial fishermen and other small business owners whose lives have been devastated [to] sue as well as be adequately compensated,” said Nan Aron, president of the public interest law group Alliance for Justice.

Individuals and businesses who suffer economic losses from the disaster may either file a lawsuit or a claim under the Oil Pollution Act.
A number of civil suits seeking class action status have already been filed against BP and others, alleging that the companies failed to employ necessary safety measures to guard against such an accident.

The problem resides with the 2008 Exxon Shipping v. Baker case, in which the court significantly cut punitive damages award against Exxon for the 1989 Valdez spill off the coast of Alaska.

The jury had originally awarded $5 billion in punitive damages, which was later reduced to $2.5 billion, and then again to $507 million. The Supreme Court ruled that punitive damages in maritime cases cannot exceed the amount of compensatory damages. The final award worked out to less than $15,000 per plaintiff, and were granted more than 17 years after litigation.

Those filing claims under the Oil Pollution Act also face potential problems. Under the act, BP’s total liability caps out at $75 million, which includes all claims of lost revenues from fishing and tourism, natural resource damages, and lost local tax revenues. Many claims have already been submitted, and once the money runs out, those with outstanding claims may be out of luck.

Lawmakers have filed legislation to lift the cap on BP’s liability under the act. In announcing the legislation, lawmakers pointed out that BP’s first quarter profits this year alone amounted to more than $5 billion – the largest of any other oil company.

Do I have an Oil Spill Lawsuit?

The Environmental Litigation Group at our law firm is an experienced team of trial lawyers that focus exclusively on the representation of plaintiffs in environmental catastrophe lawsuits. We are handling individual litigation throughout the Gulf Coast and currently accepting new oil spill cases in all affected states.

If you or somebody you know has suffered an economic loss related to your Gulf Coast business or coastal property, you should contact our law firm immediately. You may be entitled to compensation by filing an oil spill lawsuit and we can help.  We are currently accepting cases and/or claims in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

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