Should I Get a Lawyer to File a BP Oil Spill Claim?


If you have suffered property damage or a loss of income as a result of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, you can file a claim to receive compensation for your losses. These claims can be made directly to BP, either online or by phone, or at local claims offices that have been set up in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. You do not need a lawyer to file a claim, but consulting with a lawyer can help you file your claim in the best way to ensure you get full compensation, including whether it is better to file a claim now, or wait for the new claims process initiated by the new $20 billion oil spill fund.

If properly filed, a claim for compensation will not prevent you from filing another claim for additional losses or a lawsuit if you do not feel the claims process is adequately compensating you. To talk to a local lawyer who understands the claim process and can help you, please contact today.

What a Lawyer Can Do for You

Although you do not need a lawyer to file a claim for compensation from BP, a lawyer can be very helpful. A lawyer can remove uncertainty about the claims process and potentially help you receive the compensation you deserve by:

  • Determining the full extent of your losses
  • Helping you to document your losses
  • Deciding whether it is better to file a claim, a lawsuit, or both

Many small claims are being accepted and paid quickly, but this does not mean that claimants are receiving the full compensation to which they are entitled. Part of the reason why BP is responding to small claims so quickly is that they believe it will save them money in the long run.

What Are Your Losses?

Claims made to BP are administered under the Oil Pollution Act (OPA) of 1990, which stipulates that BP must pay for specific categories of damages caused by the spill, including:

  • Removal and cleanup costs
  • Property damage
  • Loss of subsistence use of natural resources
  • Government revenue loss
  • Increased cost of public services
  • Loss of profits, wages, and earning capacity
  • Damage to natural resources

If your losses fit largely into these categories you can get most--if not all--of the compensation you need and deserve with an OPA claim. If you have other losses or wish to seek compensation for other damages--such as pain and suffering, disfigurement, or other noneconomic losses--filing a lawsuit is your only option.

How to Document Your Losses

BP notes that it will use the principles established largely by the Coast Guard's practice in evaluation claims under OPA for determining whether to pay a claim. According to BP, the principles it will use on deciding whether and how much to pay for a claim are:

  • The oil spill must be the legal cause of your loss.
  • Your loss cannot be remote or speculative.
  • Your claim must be substantiated.
  • Reasonable efforts must be taken to mitigate your loss.
  • Payments will be for your net loss.
  • A loss will be paid for once.
  • "BP will be efficient, practical, and fair."

Many of these principles stress the importance of appropriately documenting your loss. First, you must show that the oil spill is the "legal cause" of your loss. Next, you must show that the loss is an actual, as opposed to speculative, one, and you must provide evidence to that effect. You must also show that you have taken steps to reduce your loss and to document what is technically your net loss.

Because of documentation requirements and the restriction that losses will only be paid once, it may be worthwhile to delay a claim until you can document the full extent of a particular loss.

A Claim or a Lawsuit or both?

As mentioned above, BP is only required by OPA to pay compensation for some types of damages, and if you are seeking compensation for other types of damages you may be better compensated with a lawsuit than an OPA claim. It is interesting, however, that BP is offering to pay for bodily injury claims through the same process. Bodily injury claims, it says, are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. This offer is likely an attempt to stem potential costs of personal injuries suffered by exposure to oil, dispersants, and other toxic materials, and, based on the information requested, is likely to include only compensation for actual documented medical bills and lost wages. Not likely to be included are pain and suffering, disfigurement, diminished quality of life, and other noneconomic damages.

In addition, President Obama has recently negotiated that BP establish a $20 billion Oil Spill Claims Fund. This fund will not be controlled by either BP or by the government. Its control by an independent third party may establish a more impartial claims process that can lead to better compensation of your losses. It may be worthwhile to delay your claim until this new fund is in place to get fairer compensation.

Finally, it may be best to divide your efforts into several parts to get the best results. Immediate, documented losses might be filed through BP's claims process to get you compensation you might need today. Losses that are continuing to mount or that you feel might not be fairly compensated by BP might be filed through the oil spill claims fund. And serious personal injuries that resulted in significant noneconomic damages might be pursued through a lawsuit.

Consultation with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how best to seek compensation for your losses. Please contact today to talk to a local lawyer who can help.