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History Says Gulf Oil Spill Victims May Have a Long Wait To Be Compensated

May 13, 2010

NEW YORK, N.Y. - An expert on victim compensation following oil spills predicts many years will pass before victims will see any significant compensation for loss of property or income as a result of damages from the spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Adding to the challenge, she says, is a $75-million federal cap on liability.

Joanne Doroshow, executive director of the Center for Justice and Democracy, says, based on the years of litigation that followed the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989, it could be a long time before many of the victims are compensated.

"In the Valdez case, Exxon fought the fishermen in court for 19 years before paying them a dime."

Doroshow says, even if Congress acts to lift the liability cap currently in place, it won't mean money will come pouring in to those who have been damaged by the spill.

"We know that there's every likelihood that, even if the cap is lifted, there's going to be a fight. Individuals are going to have to fight."

British Petroleum, the company most consider ultimately responsible for the spill, has indicated it wants to share the responsibility with partner companies, arguing technologies and systems under those companies' control failed and contributed to the disaster. BP already has made a few payments to a handful of affected Louisiana fishers and oysterers, with the highest reported around $5,000. The company has paid the State of Florida $25 million. One estimate is that BP will accrue over $3 billion in litigation costs alone.

Congress is considering a law that would lift the cap on liability.

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI