An oil spill has the potential to destroy everything in its path – including yards, homes, streams and wildlife – if not properly managed and promptly mitigated. Not all businesses and homeowners will take their responsibility to the environment and their neighbors so seriously. When an oil spill results from negligence, it can give rise to legal liability. However, it is important to note that even seemingly-unavoidable oil spills may be compensable when nearby properties and residents are affected.
The costs associated with clean-up can vary greatly depending upon the type and amount of oil involved as well as the geographic location of the spill. To that end, an oil spill that is confined to the soil will generally be less expensive than one which makes its way to a nearby body of water. Similarly, spills of crude, fuel and emulsion oils are heavier and therefore more expensive to remediate than lighter, refined oils, which are easier to disperse. Accordingly, the range of typical oil spill-related costs is wide. A residential oil spill caused by a leaking underground storage tank may result in damages of $20,000 to $50,000, while the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico disaster required rig owner British Petroleum Exploration & Production Inc. (BP) to pay upwards of $12.5 billion.
Claims Process Requires Attention to Detail, Patience
Regardless of the price tag, a polluter is ultimately responsible for all costs associated with an oil spill pursuant to the Oil Pollution Act (OPA) of 1990. These costs are in no way limited to the immediate clean-up. Properties must be restored to their pre-spill condition, an exhaustive and expensive process that includes removal of oil deposits and bioremediation of polluted soil. When a property nonetheless must be sold at a loss because of an oil spill, the property owner is entitled to the difference between the sale price and the property’s assessed value prior to the spill.
Claims for damages under the OPA – which are largely reserved for catastrophic events and are paid from OPA’s Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund – must be filed separately for each damaged property and generally within three years of discovering the spill. When oil has leeched into nearby streams, rivers and lakes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will assume oversight of the clean-up. The EPA’s role extends beyond ensuring adequate cleanup by a polluter; the EPA additionally oversees all claims for damages stemming from the spill. Similarly, oil spills in coastal waters fall under the purview of the U.S. Coast Guard.
OPA requires injured parties to demonstrate ownership of the affected property or provide a copy of a lease if the property in question is a commercial or residential rental. Photographs of damages must be submitted along with all bids and estimates received for remediation, and a statement indicating that the damage stemmed directly from the oil spill. The claim will then be forwarded to an adjuster who will render a final decision on the amount of compensation owed to a claimant. Property owners or tenants may appeal an adverse determination to a three-judge panel.
Legal Representation Bolsters Claims for Damages
Lesser oil spills may also be compensable without invoking the OPA. A botched oil delivery or defective oil tank can lead to an oil tank overflow that substantially damages a home. Similarly, a failure by a neighbor to remove or repair a leaking underground storage tank can be sued for damages in connection with any pollution of downgrade drinking water wells. The Pennsylvania environmental lawyers at Williams Cedar will not only take steps in court to ensure that a dangerous situation is being promptly addressed, but also work in tandem with environmental consultants to develop a long-term clean-up and cost recovery plan that serves our client’s needs.
Pennsylvania Environmental Lawyers at Williams Cedar Fight for the Rights of Oil Spill Victims
The aftermath of an oil spill can be overwhelming, emotionally and financially. The Pennsylvania environmental lawyers at Williams Cedar have a demonstrated history of easing this burden for our clients. If you or a loved one recently suffered an oil spill contact us at 215-557-0099 or complete our online contact form to schedule a free consultation. We have offices in Philadelphia and Haddonfield, New Jersey, allowing us to represent clients in South Jersey, Pennsylvania, and nationwide.