Bill seeks cash gusher from oil spill

The SE Texas Record Aug. 7, 2010, 6:38pm

What is it with acronyms? It seems like every other bill coming out of Washington these days has a title with the first letters of every word spelling out a message word.

Creating the right acronym will focus attention on the issue at hand, seems to be the thinking. The first letters of key words in the title may form the acronym. The first letters of articles and prepositions in the title may form part of the acronym. Sometimes consonant blends are included. But almost always it's clear the acronym was settled on first and the title of the bill tortuously engineered to fit.

Take the Securing Protections for the Injured from Limitations on Liability Act, which becomes the SPILL bill. Get it? Catchy acronym, eh?

The SPILL bill purports to be a corrective for alleged shortcomings in maritime law that supposedly came to light in the wake of the Gulf oil spill.

Applying President Obama aide Rahm Emanuel's motto of never letting a serious crisis go to waste, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the SPILL bill by voice vote early in July.

The bill does nothing to make major environmental disasters in our coastal waters less likely, but it does create significant opportunities for trial attorneys to cash in on them.

If passed by the Senate, the SPILL Act would amend the Death on the High Seas Act, the Jones Act, and the Limitation of Liability Act, allowing families of deceased BP oil workers – and others in the future -- to recover for non-economic damages.

"It is a political reaction to the BP issue," charges Mark Freeman, a maritime defense attorney with Baldo Stevens Freeman & Lighty in Beaumont. "An environmental event is being used to change not only the Jones Act, but other marine statutes and ship owners' liability as well."

Just compensation for the families of deceased workers is one matter. Incentives for lawyers to savage the maritime industry is another. Let's not let catchy names deceive us.

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