With so many fishermen left out of work, individuals throughout the Gulf Coast are beginning to worry about their future. The Oil Pollution Act provides a legal solution but the ensuing lawsuits will not be helpful in the present. There are two British Petroleum programs that affected fishermen need to be aware of: their claims program and the Vessel of Opportunity program (VOP). These programs can provide immediate assistance for unemployed fishermen.
On its website and in many press releases BP has promised to take full responsibility for the damages that the oil spill has caused. This has included paying out lost-wages claims to fishermen. Under this program fishermen can recover a month in lost wages. Be aware that this recovery is handled by BP, not the National Pollution Funds Center or a court. BP will make a three-year average of a claimant’s income between January and March and pay a one month settlement. This settlement can affect a fisherman’s recovery if he later decides to sue. Currently the pay outs are around $5,000. You can contact their claim center at 1-800-440-0858. If you are not satisfied with their resolution, then you can contact the National Pollution Funds Center at 1-800-280-7118.
BP is also taking on paid volunteers to help in the clean up effort under their “Vessel of Opportunity Program.” Through this program BP employs fishermen to deploy booms in order to stem the flood of oil. BP provides much of the equipment and training to those taking part. While BP will pay fishermen who take part, it is unclear how many boats BP will hire. The last count was around 700, far less than the number of fishermen who are now unemployed.
Fishermen who take part in BP’s remedies need to be aware that it can affect their recovery under the Oil Pollution Act. The Act requires that a lost profits claim note any alternative employment that a claimant takes. So if you take part in the Vessel of Opportunity Program you will have to note it in your claim. Any money you make from the program might be deducted from your ultimate OPA recovery. As a result it is a very important decision to make regarding whether the claim is more effective with or without these work opportunities.
Additionally, if you settle with BP then you might give up your rights to a claim under the OPA if the settlement is final. At the very least a settlement will be taken into account if and when you file an OPA claim. For this reason alone it is essential that those who receive offers from BP consult with an attorney in order to insure their legal rights are not hampered by awkward wording or unfair practice that so many have faced in the wake of storms and insurance company settlements.
If you have any questions regarding the spill please contact the oil spill experts at the Berniard Law Firm.