AAJ: Compensation Program Must Protect Gulf Coasters, Not Shield BP

Jun 15, 2010, 13:04 ET from American Association for Justice

Ensuring residents and businesses quickly receive fair compensation should be top priority

WASHINGTON, June 15 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- As President Obama prepares to address the nation this evening and detail efforts to help Gulf Coasters, the American Association for Justice (AAJ) today outlined steps the White House and Congress should follow to ensure residents and businesses quickly receive fair compensation while ensuring that negligent parties, not taxpayers, pay the full cost of recovery.

"AAJ is firmly behind any effort that can quickly and fairly compensate people for their losses due to the spill.  We will be asking many questions throughout this process so Gulf Coasters can receive justice," said AAJ President Anthony Tarricone.  "Despite the urgency of the situation, we cannot let haste be to the detriment of residents and businesses by limiting their compensation before the impact of the spill and the full extent of wrongdoing is fully realized."

These are key questions that must be answered to ensure a compensation program fairly treats injured Gulf Coasters and holds BP and other wrongdoers accountable:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Will this program limit BP's civil liability?  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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

As the world's largest trial bar, the American Association for Justice (formerly known as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America) works to make sure people have a fair chance to receive justice through the legal system when they are injured by the negligence or misconduct of others--even when it means taking on the most powerful corporations.  Visit http://www.justice.org.

SOURCE American Association for Justice