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LEGAL LANDSCAPE FOR OIL SPILLS HAS CHANGED SINCE EXXON VALDEZ (WKRG.COM)

May 21, 2010

by Bill Riales

MOBILE, Alabama - Thousands of individuals and businesses are submitting claims to BP for lost income due to the oil leak in the Gulf. So far, most are subject to a cap of $5000. Its unclear whether the oil company will pay out any more to fishermen, condo owners, bait shop operators and others who have seen a huge drop in income because of the spill without going to court. Some may already be out of business and a livelihood. Let the litigation begin.

Verner Wilson knows first hand the struggles faced by people in Prince Williams Sound in the wake of the Exxon Valdez accident.

"My family suffered through that and after twenty years of litigation finally received a check for $60 after losing tens of thousands of dollars."

Wilson, a fisherman from Bristol Bay, Alaska, was part of a contingent of native Alaskans who came south to see the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. In the wake of Exxon Valdez came the Oil Pollution Act.

In 1989, people in Prince Williams Sound, who did not make their living directly from the water could not make claims. The OPA corrected that, broadening the categories of people and businesses and even governments, that could claim damages in the wake of an oil spill.

The problem is that much of what is in the act remains uncertain, and untested.

"The t-shirt shop in Gulf Shores for example, probably. But the further you get away from the beach--from the oil spill, all of that remains uncertain," says Steve Nicholas, an attorney with Cunningham Bounds in Mobile. The law firm has filed as many as 8 lawsuits so far over the spill in the gulf.

Nicholas says it is hoped that litigation involving damages against BP should go quicker this time, as opposed to the years it took for the Exxon Valdez case to wind its way through courts. Along with the provisions passed in the Oil Pollution Act, liability has already been established.

"BP and Transocean have already been held as responsible parties," Nicholas says.

What remains to be seen is if BP officials will hold to their statements that they will not adhere to the $75m cap for clean up and damages established by federal law.

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