If we have learned anything, we know that Big Oil is much more experienced and prepared when it comes to capping its liability than to capping its runaway wells. The industry may seem ineffective and cumbersome on the national stage, but in the regulatory offices and halls of Congress they are quite effective, as we discover almost daily. Industry officials are not dumb enough to make a statement that a new fund will strip away people’s day in court, but they will install bureaucratic barriers that accomplish that goal.
And make no mistake, despite assurances to the contrary, BP and the other companies involved in the spill will use details of the $20 billion fund to insulate themselves from what they fear most: A day in court facing their victims. Even as President Obama was reportedly noting that the fund “does not cap BP’s liability,” others in his White House said they “weren’t sure” whether the fund, as envisioned, would require families making claims to forgo the right to private lawsuits, which is what happened to participants in similar funds. There are many ways to cap liability, and taking advantage of desperate families, who sign away their legal rights, is one of the oldest tricks in the book.
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