Policy Documents

Post-Deepwater Horizon: The Changing Landscape of Liability for Oil Pollution in the United States

Vincent J. Foley –
February 3, 2011

Following the  Deepwater Horizon incident, the framework of liability for oil pollution and victim compensation in the  United States is undergoing significant changes. In the event of a marine casualty or oil spill, the owner or operator of a vessel has planned for liability in accordance with the current federal scheme established under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (―OPA), and numerous other federal and state environmental statutes.  The reaction from Congress to the enormous public outrage and unprecedented scope of the oil spill from the  Deepwater Horizon,was to push legislative proposals through committee hearings, and bring bills to the floor for a vote that would repeal established limits of liability, both under the OPA and other statutes, such as the Shipowner‘s Limitation of Liability Act of 1851.   This knee-jerk reaction to remove limits of liability is short-sighted and serves only to quench public thirst for punishment by showing that the politicians can act swiftly and forcefully.  The proposed legislation would not increase the funds available for compensation to injured claimants, nor would it result in claimants being compensated in greater numbers or more promptly