What You Should Know About Property Damage Claims Under the Oil Pollution Act

In a previous post, we explored the role of the Oil Pollution Act (OPA) and the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund (OSLTF) in compensating Louisiana residents who incur oil removal and clean-up costs. These funds are also available for coastal residents who suffer property damage as a result of an oil spill.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard’s National Pollution Funds Center web site, the OPA permits filings for oil-related losses to real and personal property. Real property damage is defined as “injury to or economic losses resulting from destruction of land or buildings.” For example, the owner of oil-fouled waterfront property can file for reimbursement of the costs to restore the property to its pre-spill condition. Or, if the owner decides to sell the property without restoring it, he can submit a claim for the difference between its pre-spill assessed value and the reduced price he receives for the fouled property after the spill.

Personal property damage is “injury to or economic losses resulting from damages to other types property you own or lease besides real property.” For instance, a fisherman can submit a claim for the cost of cleaning or replacing a shrimp net, fishing tackle, or clothing that is fouled by oil.

The OPA requires that property damage claims meet a number of specific requirements. The first is that the claimant must prove ownership of the damaged property. This primarily pertains to real property claims and can be accomplished by titles, deeds, or other public records. This further stresses the importance of keeping documents up to date in order to prove ownership. It is important to be able to show good marketable title to land at any given time and proper recording in the county courthouse.
The claimant must also show that the damage complained of was actually caused by oil and not some other factor. Further, the claimant must show that the amount of damage claimed is “appropriate.” This can be achieved by citing the cost to repair or replace the property, the appraised value of the property before and after the spill, or, in the case of real property, the amount of loss suffered when selling the fouled property. Documentation is essential and can take the form of photographs, reports from governmental agencies, invoices, receipts, witness statements, professional property appraisals, lease or rental agreements for substitute property, or any other documentation the claimant feels will help support the amount claimed.

Property owners have only three years to gather the necessary documentation and submit a claim under the OPA. Claims must be for a specific amount of money, which means it is imperative that property owners take the necessary steps to determine the true value of their losses.

An attorney who is an expert in the OPA claims process can ensure that your claim is properly prepared, adequately substantiated, and timely filed.