What To Do If You Have Oil Spill Damage

In the Florida Panhandle, most people have not lost money or had other damage caused by BP and Transocean from the oil spill in the Gulf. However, some have already suffered large economic losses. Whatever the kind of economic loss they have had, the legal remedies are the same, and some are far better to utilize than others are. Some of the stories I get from people calling me for help are appalling.

For instance, the man who owns a nationally sold fishing magazine whose business is failing, because he cannot get even his steady advertisers to put money into a magazine about Florida fishing. Alternatively, the restaurant owners in Louisiana who say their business has dropped to nothing, because tourists are not going there or they will not order seafood, because they've heard it's unsafe.

The local charter fishermen who have lost jobs since the fisheries have shut down. Moreover, the hotel and condo owners and their employees who have suffered due to cancelled rental reservations. All are in the same situation. They have economic losses that can be recovered by following the right steps. If they follow one of the wrong paths, they are likely to be tied up in litigation for years.

Let's examine the different possibilities for economic recovery. The federal law governing recovery of damage due to the oil spill is the Oil Pollution Act (OPA), 33 USC Sec. 2701 and subsequent sections. It provides for broad recovery of losses from responsible parties like BP, and it covers the economic losses of all the people who have called me as I described above. That gives you an idea of how broad the OPA is.

There are several advantages of using the OPA in an administrative way but probably not by using it in a lawsuit unless no other way exists to recover the losses of a specific person or business. Its advantages are that an interim payment method is set up, so long delays in payments can be avoided; interest on money lost must be paid; and sequential interim claims for payment can be made as long as the losses continue. Finally, under the act, the administrative claim mechanism that has to be set up by the defendants ultimately allows one to sue under the OPA if BP denies a claim.

OPA also establishes an Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund for payment of claims if a claimant has not filed suit. I believe it presents an opportunity for relatively fast payment by BP and with lower cost to people who have been damaged. Disadvantages of the OPA are that cases filed in court, not the administrative claims I just mentioned, will be in federal court, and all cases filed under it are likely to be transferred to multi-district litigation in a presently unknown court with probable long delays.

Quickly, I will mention Florida's statute 376.011, our pollution act. It is excellent in that under it one may get all damages repaid including attorney's fees and expert witness fees. The OPA does not have that advantage.

Read more about what to do if you suffered damage from an oil spill.

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