Protect your business from oil spill damages


South Floridians are well-versed in preparing for a variety of natural disasters, such as hurricanes. However, no one is prepared for the effects that the April 20th BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill will have on our local businesses, or how to protect from damages.

Although the lasting effects of the oil spill are yet to be determined, business owners in South Florida must start now to prepare themselves for the aftermath. Marinas, tourism and local governments are just some of the vast number of victims of what is being called one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history.

Perhaps the most important step that local businesses should take to protect themselves is to document damages. The key is to collect evidence now regarding current activity, business and cash flows, which should all be carefully documented before the spill hits to determine impact when the oil gets here. Once it does, businesses and individuals will have lost the opportunity to gather evidence prior to the oil interrupting or in some cases devastating business. An example of this could include collecting cancellation notices from customers or vendors.

With the latest disclosures showing that BP’s use of oil dispersants is causing the poisons to dissolve and become invisible in the Gulf’s waters, at a magnitude more than possibly five times greater than publicly told, everyone in the potential path of this invisible poison needs to quickly and competently start to collect evidence to help prove their losses.

Additionally, the pending oil is already having significant affects on South Florida’s most important industries, including tourism. A new report shows that counties in the oil’s path are at risk of a lowered credit rating, making it more expensive to borrow money. Hotels and other tourism centers have already begun to experience cancellations, with those numbers only expected to continue on a downward slide.

Boatyards and companies involved in the marine industry are also losing business, as fishermen anticipate lobster and other prime seafood seasons to be affected, and in turn, are canceling equipment orders.

The following are some steps that businesses can take to establish damages:

• Form a baseline of information from the past 3-4 years compiling sales and costs data.

• Document your ordinary business matters which show business performance before oil impact effects.

• When clients cancel due to the actual oil presence, or due to the stigma of its potential presence, document that cancellation in writing to the client and to the file

• Photograph your waterfront property, boats, and other personal property likely to be impacted by oil before its arrival.

• Pay a few hundred dollars for a pre-impact property value appraisal if one has not been done in the past five years.

• Make sure your tax returns are in order and collect financial statements that have been prepared in the past five years.

• Document all added expenditures or costs that are expended in labor, supplies, or overhead which are spent to overcome the loss of clients, loss of product value, etc.

Robert McKee is a partner with the law firm of Krupnick Campbell Malone Buser Slama Hancock Liberman & McKee in Fort Lauderdale. The firm is also a part of the Gulf Oil Disaster Recovery Group, an association of independent law firms.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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