Oil Spillage: Who Can Be Held Liable?

aerial view of body of water

Many of us are all too aware of the devastating damage to the environment that can be caused by an oil spillage but there are a number of key aspects attached to this sort of incident that are not always immediately apparent.

Ask a maritime accident attorney and they will be able to confirm that personal injury claims are also a consequence of this sort of incident.

A question that needs answering in this scenario is who can be held liable when there is an oil spillage?

Cleaning up and containing the spillage

The Exxon Valdez tanker spill back in 1989 was a watershed moment for the oil industry and a raft of new safety legislation was introduced as a result of the disaster that resulted in more than 20 million tons of oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico.

Fundamentally, there are four distinct categories of liability relating to oil spillages and the company’s accused of causing the incident.

The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 was a direct response to the Gulf oil spill and it is designed to hold the responsible party liable for all related costs, without any ceiling on the total amount of liability.

Additional damages

Part of the Oil Pollution Act also covers the subject of other indirect damages beyond the cost of the cleanup itself.

Damage to natural resources is a prime example, and the government also wants to be paid for lost tax revenues too.

The key question that triggers these compensation claims is whether the company liable is guilty of gross negligence or the incident was caused as a result of regulatory noncompliance.

Criminal charges

Another cornerstone of the act is the matter of civil and criminal charges and penalties.

The company accused of causing the spillage could be pursued for violating a whole host of civil and criminal laws.

There is a recognized framework for this issue and the federal Clean Water Act, for instance, states that a fine in excess of $4,000 per barrel could be applied if the guilty party is found to be grossly negligent.

There are plenty of avenues for government attorneys to pursue and plea agreements tend to be the route taken in gaining a settlement.

Liability varies by state

The other category to talk about is personal injury and claims relating to damage to property as a result of spillage.

Tort law relates to claiming compensation for harm caused to personal health and safety and if you have been impacted by an incident you have the ability to file a lawsuit for damages.

It is important to understand that tort liability varies between states and that is a good reason for getting the right professional guidance in the form of a maritime attorney with a working knowledge of the claims process and the scope of liability you are able to pursue.

In terms of who can be held liable, you can expect a challenge to any claim for compensation, but the legal framework exists to establish liability and you will be able to find a lawyer adept at pursuing justice by exploring the laws that are there to deal with this sort of situation fairly.

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