Contact: Ray De Lorenzi
202-965-3500 ext. 8369
AAJ Response to President Obama’s Address on Gulf Oil Spill
Washington, DC—The following is a statement from American Association for Justice President Anthony Tarricone on President Obama’s plan to establish a third-party administered claims process:
“In the aftermath of the Gulf Coast spill, the civil justice system will be essential in ensuring residents and businesses can receive justice and hold BP and other corporations accountable.
“For some of these people, a voluntary claims process may quickly and fairly compensate them for their losses due to the spill. A neutral party administering claims will help preserve basic fairness.
“However, many questions need to be answered before such a compensation program is formed, and we will be asking them over the days and weeks to come. Ultimately, a claims process must ensure Gulf Coast residents and businesses can be fully compensated, preserve access to the civil justice system, and hold BP and other corporations accountable for their wrongdoing.”
Earlier today, AAJ outlined key questions that must be answered to ensure a compensation program fairly treats injured Gulf Coasters and holds BP and other wrongdoers accountable:
- Is the process streamlined so victims receive compensation as quickly as possible? Many government run compensation programs, such as the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, are very slow. The whole idea of a direct claims process is to provide compensation quickly. If this cannot be done, then the program is not worth pursuing.
- Will victims be fully compensated? Since the oil is still flowing into the Gulf, it is difficult to determine the amount and extent of the damages. A provision must be made for victims to receive short-term compensation now with the option for receiving full compensation once the extent of the damages becomes known.
- Will this program limit BP’s civil liability and punish their wrongdoing? Efforts should be focused on quickly and fairly compensating injured residents and businesses, not protecting BP at the expense of taxpayers. Since the amount and extent of damage is still unknown, anything not specifically covered by the claims process must be specifically preserved under state law or another federal remedy.
- Who will decide the value of claims? In order to preserve basic fairness, the claims process must be decided by a neutral party, such as a special master, who would be appointed by the federal government. BP should not be charged with determining the status and value of claims.
- Will BP try to distort or narrow its responsibility based on the type of injury caused by the spill? For example, BP should be responsible to workers who suffered health problems as a result of exposure to the oil or to the chemical used to clean up the oil. These costs should not be transferred to the federal government, but remain with BP and other negligent parties.
- If these compensation efforts are insufficient, will Gulf Coast residents and businesses still have access to the civil justice system? Those affected by the spill must have the option to retain counsel, opt out of the program at any time, and pursue claims through court. Additionally, if a claim is denied, the injured party should have the right to appeal in court.
AAJ (formerly the Association of Trial Lawyers of America) played a key role in planning the compensation program for the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks; ultimately, 98 percent of the families killed on 9/11, as well as hundreds of injured victims, filed claims with the fund.
Numerous media reports have attempted to draw comparisons between the oil spill compensation proposal and the 9/11 compensation fund; however, the underlying events leading to each event are far different. After 9/11, the government paid claims, as people were killed or injured by an act of war by a foreign terrorist group. In the Gulf Coast spill, BP and other parties are multinational corporations with billions of dollars in assets, meaning they, not taxpayers, should pay all claims.