When Tort Reform Backfires: The BP Oil Spill

On April 20, 2010, an offshore drilling rig known as the Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. The explosion claimed the lives of 11 crewmembers and caused the largest oil spill in U.S. history. British Petroleum (BP) leased the rig from Transocean.

This devastating offshore accident added fuel to the already hotly debated topic of tort reform. Advocates of tort reform gained a victory in 1990 when the Oil Pollution Act capped the oil spill liability of offshore drillers at $75 million. As the BP oil spill damage estimates entered the billions, it became clear that maybe this cap wasn’t such a good idea. Senator Robert Menendez and others quickly co-sponsored a measure to increase the cap retroactively to $10 billion, but the bill was blocked.

There also exists the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund (OSLTF), which is limited to $2.7 billion and receives its funding from barrel taxes, penalties and other sources. However, even the OSLTF falls extremely short of covering the BP oil spill damages. BP voluntarily set aside more than $40 billion for cleanup costs, and the company reports it has paid in excess of $21 billion to individuals, businesses and governments so far. But what if BP hadn’t willingly set aside this money? And what if damages exceed $40 billion as estimates suggest? Thus, the debate over tort reform and liability caps continues.

The devastation of an oil spill goes beyond the ecological effects. Injured workers may require costly medical care and possibly even lose their ability to earn an income. An experienced Boston maritime attorney helps injured maritime workers and their families fight for the compensation they deserve.

Latti & Anderson LLP – Boston maritime trial lawyers