Robert Wiygul on the Proposed Settlement

The BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill was unprecedented in almost every way – location, geographical scale, technical challenges and not least the number of lives affected. As a result, the BP spill was also unprecedented in terms of the challenges it posed for lawyers going to court for the people injured by the spill.

BP, Transocean and Halliburton are some of the largest corporations in the world, and they hired hundreds of scientists and lawyers to defend the companies. Questions about how to prove the extent of people’s losses, whether fisheries and tourism economies would suffer in the future, and whether health issues were caused by the spill would all have to be proven in court, with strict standards for evidence.

I’m optimistic that the proposed settlement for people harmed by the BP spill will be a good one. Trong 2010, the BP spill hurt people who depend on the Gulf of Mexico for their living in some very direct ways – people were put out of jobs, seafood was tainted, and visitors stopped coming. But the harm from the spill didn’t stop there, because the spill also puts them at risk for the future – if fisheries are affected, or a storm puts oil back on the beaches. Any fair settlement has to include not just past losses, but something to protect people against the chance of future losses. The proposed settlement includes mechanisms to do that, and just as important, it will put people back in some control of their lives.

There are still a lot of steps left in the dance before the settlement proposal is final – some key elements remain to be worked out, and the judge has to approve the offer as fair. Some claims will have to be negotiated on an individual basis, and some will probably have to go to court in the end. But for now, the proposed settlement looks like a big step forward.

Robert Wiygul

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