Oil Pollution Act of 1990 Claims Deadline
Q&A on filing Gulf oil spill claims
What is the deadline to file claims in court over the oil spill?
Technically, people have three years to file claims in connection with the Gulf oil spill under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, but some attorneys say the real deadline is April 20 because of an obscure maritime-law proceeding that will unfold next February. Filing a claim in that action, known as the Transocean limitation of liability proceeding, will ensure that you have the right to collect from all the parties involved in the Gulf oil disaster, and could open the possibility to collect punitive damages, should they be awarded.
What happens next February?
Transocean Ltd., the owner of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, has invoked an 1851 law to try to limit its financial exposure to the $27 million value of destroyed rig and its freight at the bottom of the ocean. As Transocean tries to argue why it’s not responsible, it’s expected to argue why other parties are at fault, and of course, those parties are expected to point the finger at everyone else in the case. The end result is that the court will determine the proportion of fault among the defendants, which then can be applied in other phases of the case. The limitation of liability proceeding starts Feb. 27, 2012, and could go on for much of the spring.
Where do the punitive damages come in?
That’s an open question. Technically, punitive damages are available under maritime law such as the Transocean proceeding, and not under the Oil Pollution Act, but some attorneys see ways to link one to the other, should companies be found to have acted in “gross negligence.” Many legal questions in the oil spill case are untested.
How do I file?
The court has a simple three-page form called a short-form joinder that’s available at http://tiny.cc/a1jpk . You don’t need a lawyer and there’s no fee to file, and even if you do have a lawyer, you can still use this form. Filing the form automatically signs you up for the Transocean proceeding and the broader oil spill case.
Can I pursue my claim with the Gulf Coast Claims Facility if I file the short-form in court?
Yes. If you reach a final settlement with the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, you can withdraw from the lawsuits.
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