Court Stops BP Forcing Oil Spill Clean-Up Volunteers to Sign Away Their Rights

BP oil spill debris photo

photo: US Coast Guard via flickr.

A federal court in Louisiana has issued the first in what is bound to be many blows against BP: The US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana has stopped BP from forcing fisherman volunteering to help with oil spill clean-up efforts from signing away their right to free speech, from holding BP harmless for any accidents that might occur, and requiring them to give the oil giant a month's notice before filing any legal claims.Commercial Fishermen's Association president George Barasich asked the court to prevent BP from requiring fisherman to sign Master Charter Agreements compromising their existing and future rights. Judge Ginger Berrigan agreed that the language of the MCA's was too broadly worded.

According to attorney Stuart Smith, who is part of a working group of lawyers intending to prosecute claims by those affected by the BP oil spill, the most egregious provisions of the MCA's were:

 BP, which is mandated to take 100 percent responsibility for the oil clean-up, is demanding that the volunteers indemnify it for any accidents that might occur from the volunteers' efforts (Art. 13(F));

BP demands that the volunteers waive their First Amendment  constitutional free speech rights about the volunteer's participation in the clean-up efforts of the disaster; for example, if a commercial fisherman signed this agreement he or she could not then speak to anyone about the disaster or clean-up efforts until BP first "approves" of what the volunteer wants to say (Art. 22);

BP demands a free-ride on the volunteers' insurance policies so that if there is damage to a volunteer's vessel or other injuries, such as to a crew member, BP will be an "additional insured" and the financial responsibility for the damage will rest on the volunteer's insurance carrier, not BP; quite obviously, the volunteers paid good money for this insurance and BP should not be allowed after-the-fact to worm their way into that contract so that it can attempt to avoid further legal responsibility for the very volunteers it is asking for aid and assistance; (Art. 13(A)); and
BP demands 30 days of notice before any volunteer is allowed to pursue legal claims against BP, and there are no exceptions made for emergencies (Art. 13(I) [sic (G]).

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More on the BP Oil Spill:
BP Gulf Oil Spill Cheat Sheet: A Timeline of Unfortunate Events
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