Vitter proposes increasing the liability limit for oil spills to the offending company’s profits for the last four quarters, or double the current — and laughable — $75 million limit, whichever is greater.
But if the intent is to hold BP to its admission of responsibility, why impose an arbitrary limit at all? Up to 800,000 barrels of oil a day continue to leak into the Gulf of Mexico. The dome, the siphon, the junk shot, the top kill and the underwater robots have, so far, failed. Commercial fishing, recreational fishing and tourism, all big-money industries along the coast, are at risk. The cleanup, if anyone can figure out how to clean oil from a coastal marsh, will surely exceed the current liability limit. And what dollar value can be placed on a fragile ecosystem, a seafood hatchery, a hurricane buffer or a cultural heritage?
Superficially, Vitter’s proposal seems to be a kind of tort reform. But the goal of real tort reform isn’t to save a corporation’s bacon. It’s to prevent the blameless from being victimized in the civil court system. You do that by limiting punitive damages or by establishing rules to keep frivolous claims out of court.