When plaintiffs’ lawyers came to an agreement with BP in March, they wanted to make sure that coastal residents and cleanup workers facing medical problems tied to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill would be covered now and in the future. The settlement was divided into two classes, with one class devoted to economic claims and the other covering medical claims and setting up special programs to monitor and enhance the health of Gulf Coast residents, especially in some of its underserved communities.
One of the key aspects of the medical agreement stipulates that coastal residents and oil-spill cleanup workers who become ill with certain illnesses in the future retain their right to sue BP without proof of liability for the spill and exposure.
BP will also fund a comprehensive “medical consultation” program that will provide medical exams to residents and workers affected by the oil spill every three years over a 21-year period.
If these and the other terms set forth in the settlement agreement seem generous, if not excessive, consider this: A report aired by CNN found that nearly every worker who participated in the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska is now dead. Many of those workers complained of the same flu-like symptoms and other illnesses reported by Gulf Coast cleanup workers and residents who were exposed to oil and toxic chemical dispersants.
Exxon fought and appealed every lawsuit it faced over the Valdez oil disaster, which flooded Alaska’s pristine Prince William Sound with 11 million gallons of oil – a drop in the bucket compared to the 206 million gallons released by BP’s Deepwater Horizon explosion and runaway Macondo well in the Gulf.
In 1994, a judge and jury found ExxonMobil “reckless” for the incident and ordered Exxon to pay $5 billion in punitive damages to 34,000 victims. But ExxonMobil has appealed every verdict since the original ruling, bogging down American courtrooms and dragging victims through 14 years of litigation, arguing that a mere $25-million payment will cover the damages. Meanwhile, about 6,000 plaintiffs have died while awaiting compensation from Exxon.
Making matters worse, in 2006, Exxon’s damages were cut in half to $2.5 billion by a new Supreme Court restriction on punitive damages. Still, Exxon has asked the court to reconsider.
ExxonMobil continues to claim that the ecosystems and communities affected by the Valdez spill have fully recovered even though federal, state, and independent scientists consistently find that oil is still present everywhere along Prince William Sound and that the damage is extensive and ongoing. Sadly, according to CNN’s report, the average life expectancy of an Exxon Valdez worker is 51 -– more than 27 years less than the average American.
Considering the BP oil spill hit in a much more populated area during a depressed economy, the opportunity to be paid for oil spill work attracted thousands of out-of-work fishermen and others looking for jobs. Potentially hundreds of thousands of people could qualify for medical care and damages resulting from the BP oil spill.
This information is not intended to alarm or frighten you if you are one of the thousands of people who were exposed to oil from BP’s spill or the highly toxic chemical dispersant that were dumped into the Gulf. Rather it is meant to encourage you to seek medical and legal assistance if you believe the BP oil spill had a detrimental effect on your health.