March 16, 2011

Whitehouse Introduces Bills to Protect Oil Spill Victims

Legislation Would Help Victims Collect Damages, Hold Responsible Companies Accountable

Washington, DC – As the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee today heard testimony about a new report on last year’s Gulf oil spill, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced two pieces of legislation to help the victims of oil disasters.  The bills would allow victims to collect damages they are due and ensure that parties responsible for oil spills can be held accountable. 

“As we reflect today on last year’s disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, we must also work to address the problems exposed by that tragic event,” said Whitehouse.  “By providing victims with reasonable settlements and making it clear that oil companies will be held accountable for their mistakes, I hope these bills will prevent future accidents and offer relief to those still struggling.”

The first of these bills, the Oil Spill Victims Redress Act, would make clear that victims of an oil spill – families of deceased workers, fishermen, and hotel owners – can recover for their loss from any of the companies involved in the spill, and not only the company or companies considered “responsible parties” under the Oil Pollution Act. 

The Maritime Liability Fairness Act would overturn the 2008 Supreme Court case, Exxon Shipping Co. vs. Baker, which slashed Exxon Mobil Corporation’s punitive damages for the Exxon Valdez spill. In that case, the Supreme Court held that punitive damages under maritime law had to be limited to the amount of compensatory damages assessed in a case (the damages assessed to make victims whole). This legislation would allow judges and juries to assess punitive damages based on all facts in a case, without regard to the amount of other damages owed.  The bill is cosponsored by Senators Leahy, Rockefeller, Durbin, Schumer, Menendez, Sanders, Shaheen, and Franken.

Whitehouse introduced similar legislation in the last Congress.


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