The Wall Street Journal reports that lawyers are descending on the Gulf coast and preparing lawsuits over the oil spill from the sunken Deepwater Horizon rig. It notes that the regime for compensating those hurt by offshore oil spills is complex:
Individuals can file traditional lawsuits in court and receive money by proving liability. Or injured parties can make use of a claims process established under the 1990 Oil Pollution Act, in which the federal government makes payments from a fund collected through a tax imposed on the oil industry.Ã¢â‚¬
Meanwhile the New York TimesÃ‚ reportsÃ‚ that while President Obama has called the spill Ã¢â‚¬Å“a potentially unprecedented environmental disasterÃ¢â‚¬ and doomsday predictions abound about its impact, the spill is not unprecedented nor yet among the worst oil accidents in history.
Its ultimate impact, according to the NYT, will depend on a long list of interlinked variables, including the weather, ocean currents, the properties of the oil involved and the success or failure of the frantic efforts to stanch the flow and remediate its effects.
Both articles reflect an important point. From the liability and environmental standpoint, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s simply too soon toÃ‚ tell how this spill will develop and what its final impact will be. As insurers know, these kinds of events take many years to unfold.
Check out I.I.I. information on major oil spills in history. For the latest on the response to the disaster, check out a collaborative multimedia Web site being maintained by BP, Transocean and various government agencies including the U.S. Coast Guard and NOAA.