In anticipation of the President’s speech tonight, I thought I’d make some observations about the situation in the Gulf.
1. When I taught Admiralty last semester, I pointed out to my students that many of the statutes in this area are obsolete. But, I quickly added, Congress won’t do anything about this until there’s a crisis. Now we see a slew of proposals to amend the Jones Act, amend the Death on the High Seas Act, amend the Limitation of Liability Act, and overturn the Court’s decision on punitive damages in the Exxon Valdez case. Maritime law is hot! Of course, whether this sort of knee-jerk response leads to thoughtful changes is another matter, but overall it’s probably better that these neglected topics just get attention.
2. The discussion about setting up a 9/11 style Fund (paid for by BP) to address claims arising from the disaster is intriguing. It seems to me, though, that some new statute will required to make this work. In particular, I’m not clear on how such a fund would interact with bankruptcy law. Suppose BP puts $10 billion in escrow for the fund. Then later they have to file for Chapter 11. I don’t think that the fund would be immune from other creditors or that litigants would have priority over them (admittedly, though, some of my co-bloggers know far more about this than I do).
3. A far less important point. This crisis shows why the AALS Annual Meeting should not require such an early date for setting up panels. Obviously, I’d like to do this year’s Admiralty Section panel on the spill. But now I can’t — the deadline for setting up the panel was two months ago. Granted, AALS can organize a separate one on the issue, but their rigidity with respect to the sections is rather irritating.