Even as trial lawyers, we follow the sage advice of our 16th President, when appropriate, to “discourage litigation…Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can.” But, when extreme carnage is caused by clear negligence, it is the law’s mandate that the damaged victim be made whole. In these situations, the offenders must be held accountable. Responsibility is a noble goal, but in the face of tragedy, who is responsible, for what, and how?
The Gulf of Mexico oil spill is a compelling microcosm of how the law responds in the face of tragedy. By now, we have all come to the realization that the April 10, 2010 explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig is a true tragedy. The implications of the disaster are many and varied, but all tragic in their own regard: The families of the eleven crewmen whose lives were lost will never be the same; the numerous injured workers airlifted to medical facilities are irreparably harmed; the ramifications to the precious ecosystem of the Gulf are incomprehensible; the seafood industry and the many livelihoods associated with the industry have been dealt a significant blow; and, unfortunately, the list goes on, and on, and on.
Lawyers are already beginning the process of seeking full, fair and just compensation for the victims. This does not make these lawyers greedy or unsavory. In fact, just the opposite – these lawyers have, and will, assist families, individuals, businesses and property owners, (and, potentially, species of animals) in their time of greatest need. When the oyster farmer, the New Orleans restaurateur, the fisherman, the wildlife preservationist, the injured, or the grieving survivor seeks to rectify their losses, lawyers will help them through the claim and/or litigation process. These lawyers will ensure proper, sufficient compensation is acquired and provide compassionate guidance and counseling.
Prior to June 16th, BP’s liability for all of the above mentioned (and many more) claims was capped at $75 Million. This demonstrates the absurdity of arbitrary legislative damage caps restricting the extent of damages recoverable. This oil spill and its ramifications proves, once and for all, that no matter what kind of damage cap is being discussed, the answer is the same – legislators cannot, and should not, arbitrarily predict the extent of damage incurred as a result of negligence. Luckily for the victims, BP recognizes this fact. On June 16th, BP took the first step and agreed to create a $20 billion claims fund to satisfy each legitimate element of damage claimed to have resulted from the spill. Will it be enough? Stay tuned…