Open Thread - BP, The King Of Torts And Healthcare
Via MSNBC, a report that I read this morning in Bloomberg Businessweek and might be worth your eye contact for a few moments.
By Ken Wells
Fri., May 28, 2010
Daniel Becnel Jr., speed dialing over a speaker phone, places a call to a lawyer for a defendant in the British Petroleum-Deepwater Horizon rig explosion and oil spill.
"This is the king of torts calling," he says when he reaches the attorney's executive assistant.
"Oh," she says. "Then it must be Danny Becnel."
Becnel, adjusting his gold-rimmed glasses, nods appreciatively from his mahogany desk strewn with an impressive pile of legal papers. It's from here, in a French colonial-style office in Reserve, La., population 10,000, that he orchestrated the filing of the first federal lawsuit eight days after the Apr. 20 blowout, and where he tracks the legal squadrons gathering to sue BP and its contractors for claims that experts say could add up to a half-a-trillion dollars or more. About 110 suits have been filed so far, according to Becnel, and dozens more appear to be on the way.
I am trying to remember which party is always talking about tort reform - except when they are calling it a government takeover of healthcare - and who would benefit from it the most? It is not like keeping caps on Big Oil's disaster costs low has helped stop any disasters as evidenced by the history of BP and other repeat offenders. This is part of why I have always viewed the idea of tort reform in healthcare that the GOP, mostly, has pushed for as an invitation to even greater healthcare disasters when healthcare remains in the hands of the private sector profiteers.
When you cap Big Oil's responsibilities for disasters at a mere 75 million dollars - as the GOP and some Blue Dogs have fought to keep in place - it destroys the free market's and the government's ability to hold the worst offenders accountable:
The Obama administration has made it very clear that it intends to force BP to pay all of the costs associated with the massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico. But that might be easier said than done, thanks to a law passed by Congress in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez spill that puts a $75 million cap on liability for spills.
The costs associated with the Deepwater Horizon spill are numerous. BP is already spending $6 million a day on clean-up efforts. The government is expending millions as the Coast Guard and numerous state and federal agencies rush to provide back-up. The spill has halted local fishing, an industry that brings in $41 billion to the Gulf region every year. It also threatens to seriously harm the region's tourism industry, which brings in $100 billion for Gulf states annually. And then there are damages that are more difficult to measure. The blast killed 11 workers and injured 17 others, and hundreds of gallons of oil are still seeping into the Gulf every day, standing to destroy fragile coastal ecosystems. It's hard to put a dollar figure on such losses.
Not long after the Exxon Valdez spill of 1989, Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which imposed a fee on oil companies—currently 8 cents a barrel—to be paid into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. The federal government uses the fund to cover losses from oil accidents—such as the destruction of wildlife and fisheries—up to $1 billion per incident. It looks very likely that this particular incident will far exceed that limit; current estimates are as high as $8 billion. But the 1990 law also capped the liability of companies at just $75 million for all costs claimed by parties injured in an accident, including individuals, businesses and government agencies.
This means that it could be very hard for the government to force BP to pay for all the expenses stemming from the spill. A trio of anti-drilling senators on Monday introduced the "Big Oil Bailout Prevention Act," a measure that would raise the liability limit on spills to $10 billion per incident.
I am darned certain I don't want Big Oil's irresponsibility to humanity to spill over into healthcare.