Never in the history of man has a manmade environmental disaster as tragic in its scope as the BP Gulf oil spill been seen. Cleanup of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska 20 years ago continues to this day. Only 8% of the oil has been recovered. The amount of oil in our Gulf of Mexico is expected to be 400% of the Alaskan spill. What happened, what don't you know yet about what happened, and if your property or business has been damaged by the oil or news of it in the Gulf, what is the best course of action for you to follow? In addition, what dangers exist if you don't get it right? Wes Pittman at The Pittman Firm, P.A., Panama City, Florida, answers these questions below and will continue to update information and make recommendations in the weeks to come.
On March 20, one month before the blowout and ensuing explosion, BP was behind its drilling schedule. That day, it ordered faster drilling. The drilling operation had only one blowout preventer that was made by Cameron International Corporation in 2001. A huge machine with roughly 260 moving parts, it had been tested onshore but not fully at the 5000' depth at which the drillers hoped it would work. And it had been damaged a couple weeks before the blowout when a worker on the Deepwater Horizon accidentally bumped a lever.
A rubber part from the preventer was seen floating beside the Deepwater Horizon and was reported to a supervisor who said, "No big deal." Also, the drilling site was not equipped with an acoustic switch to terminate the flow of oil in the event a blowout occurred. Acoustic switches are used throughout the world in places like Norway where governments require them. The U.S. does not. The only switch to end oil flow from the drill pipe below the Deepwater Horizon was a manual switch, requiring a human hand for activation, at the site of the explosion. Neither the manual switch or the blowout preventer had a backup system in place.
Where are we now? We have BP setting up claims offices along the coast, but are they baiting people to settle cheaply? They were found to be untrustworthy in Louisiana where they hired fishermen for cleanup but buried releases in the contracts. Various claims mechanisms exist for victims to follow outside the BP offices. The best and fastest mechanism, no matter where the damage occurred, may be through the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund to avoid years of delay. People and businesses in a panic to file class action suits in various states will likely be bogged down in federal multidistrict litigation with stays and then get pennies on the dollar.
Some states have their own pollution statutes under which claims can be made independent of the federal Oil Pollution Act. For example, Florida has an excellent oil pollution statute under which claims can be made in state court with no caps on damages, and its law allows people who have lost income or property value to get their attorneys' fees paid by BP. More in the next blog from Wes Pittman, The Pittman Firm, P.A., whose practice is devoted to representing the victims of negligence and product failures for over thirty years.