My mind is being boggled daily by the ramifications of the BP Oil Spill. Men lost their lives on the rig, our environment is being devastated and every day folk have lost their livelihood in the Gulf. Worst of all, this is nowhere close to ending.
Anger is at an all time high. Tony Hayward foolishly commented that he wanted his life back. Yeah, well so do the families of the men that perished. So do the people that depend upon the Gulf and its abundance to earn a living and support their children. Rep. Joe Barton of Texas had the audacity to apologize to BP because of the pressure the White House was putting on BP to set up an escrow fund of $20 billion dollars to help compensate the victims. I read today that some experts are estimating the total cost could exceed $100 billion.
All of this has generated new buzz on the issue of Tort Reform. Tort Reform refers to proposed changes in our civil justice system that would limit the ability of victims to get compensation. Proponents of tort reform would argue that this will reduce skyrocketing insurance costs and limit frivilous lawsuits. This is despite the fact that there have been no unbiased studies (meaning studies other than those purchased by the insurance or healthcare industry) that prove or even support the proposition that insurance costs are related to tort compensation. Tort reform only helps big business. It completely obliterates justice for the comman man. Capping or limiting potential damages under Tort Reform also removes a company’s determination to make safety a primary issue. Take the BP Oil Spill as an example. Currently, oil companies are limited to a $75 million dollar cap on damages. Compare that to the estimated $100 billion in damages that BP has caused. That is $.0007 on the dollar. How does that affect, say the shrimper in Louisiana that makes $50,000 a year to support his family? Joe Shrimper makes a claim to BP for his lost income for just one year of $50,000 and BP says, “Yes, we were wrong, but we only owe you $35.00. Here’s a check and best of luck to you”. That, my friends, is Tort Deform.
There is an attempt to push a bill through now that will remove the $75 million dollar cap on damages by oil companies. By allowing unlimited liability, perhaps that will make companies like BP take safety a little more seriously if the shareholders know their dividend checks are going to be a little lighter in the years to come.
The argument on Tort Reform is contentious and bitter. I am the first to agree that there are frivilous lawsuits out there but the answer is not in passing measures that will hurt those decent people who are not making frivilous claims but only trying to survive and be treated fairly. Our civil justice system has plenty of measures in place to take care of frivilous lawsuits (ie, Motions for Summary Judgment, Rule 11 Sanctions, Trial by Jury, etc). Let those procedures work their magic and take care of booting out the ridiculous lawsuits and leave the law alone to take care of those people that justly deserve it.