Mayflower Oil Spill: Attorney Discusses Home Value and Other Damage Claims

 

Andrew Vines of Johnson & Vines, PLLC, our guest author, discusses home value for home owners affected by the Mayflower Oil Spill.

Arkansas oil spill attorneys are evaluating the legal issues surrounding the impact of the March 29 Mayflower Oil Spill on home values and other property values. The main issues discussed in the article below include:

  • Affected residents are still advised to be cautious in dealing with Exxon as the company “is developing a plan to address concerns about the long-term value of homes in the North Woods neighborhood up to and including home purchases.”
  • Under Arkansas law, property owners and others impacted by the oil spill may be entitled to compensation beyond reduced property values.
  • Attorneys experienced in successfully fighting large corporations can help their clients recover the full extent of compensation to which they are entitled due to the fault of the parties responsible for causing the Mayflower Oil Spill.

Exxon appears to be evaluating the issues related to decreased property values as a result of the oil spill, but we continue to caution affected residents in any dealings they may have with Exxon relating to property or other damage sustained as a result of the oil spill.

As posted on Exxon Mobile’s Mayflower Response website, and according to the April 11, 2013 release of the Mayflower Incident Unified Command Joint Information Center:

“ExxonMobil is paying for the cleanup and will honor all valid claims. ExxonMobil is developing a plan to address concerns about the long-term value of homes in the North Woods neighborhood up to and including home purchases.”

Whereas Exxon continues to state that it will honor all “valid” claims, the company does not state in its release that it will pay for the full extent of any property damage or personal injuries it has caused. Instead, it merely states that it is “developing a plan to address concerns” about the “long-term value of homes.”

 

Home purchases are mentioned in the release, but Exxon “developing a plan to address concerns” is distinctly different than accepting responsibility for the full extent of the damage it has caused. Moreover, Exxon still has failed to publicly define exactly what it considers a “valid” claim. Without an attorney, an individual damaged by the actions of Exxon must depend on Exxon to determine what constitutes a valid claim.

Arkansas law suggests that when petroleum products have caused property damage, a landowner may choose whether to pursue repair costs or the difference in fair market value. In cases where the damage to property results from contamination by toxic substances, and especially if the property has a home on it that the owner wants to (or must) continue to live in, often the full cost of repair can exceed the loss of property value, and Arkansas courts have suggested that in such situations the landowner has a choice in whether to seek those higher costs instead of the less costly depreciation of property value.

Additionally, landowners whose property has been damaged as a result of toxic substances may recover damages for “discomfort and other bodily and mental harms,” including “his own serious sickness and other substantial bodily harm,” in addition to “discomfort and annoyance to an occupant…and other members of the household.” (Although these claims are often difficult to value because everyone impacted by the Mayflower Oil Spill has been affected in unique ways, they are compensable and, in cases where claims are taken to court, it is expected that a jury would have a large amount of discretion on what value to place on them.)

Any offer to resolve claims by Exxon that does not take into account 1) a property owner’s choice to fully decontaminate his property, even if the cost for that work exceeds the fair market value of the property, or 2) the physical and emotional harm caused to property owners and other members of the owner’s household as a result of the oil spill, will fall short of Exxon’s promise to honor all valid claims.

Even if Exxon were to consider the validity of these elements of damage in its efforts to resolve claims, affected residents must keep in mind that it is in the best interests of Exxon and its shareholders that these claims be resolved as quickly and as inexpensively as possible.

Typically, offers to settle claims are made in exchange for a release of all past and future claims, meaning that the acceptance of an offer from Exxon, even if for the full market value of a resident’s home, may very well require the resident to waive all present and future claims for other property damage and, more importantly, any long term physical harms to the resident and members of his or her household.

Attempting to negotiate a settlement of claims with Exxon without qualified and experienced legal representation puts an affected resident at the mercy of Exxon to determine what a “valid” claim is, resulting in a tremendous disadvantage for residents seeking to fully and fairly resolve both their claims and those of their family members.

Often, large corporations must be faced with the prospect of answering for their actions in a court of law before they will make an effort to settle claims fairly and reasonably. Exxon understands that if it must go to court, it will no longer have control over how much it pays to resolve the claims against them. Instead, a juryvcomprised of Arkansas citizens, including residents of Faulkner County, will make that decision.

However, Exxon also understands that if an affected resident does not have an attorney, his or her claims would most likely never go to court, and it will not have to worry about being held accountable for the damage it has caused beyond its own, self-interested determination of what comprises a “valid” claim. Often, simply having an attorney, especially one with a track record of successfully taking on large corporations, increases the value of claims and makes a fair settlement, without the need to go to court, much more likely.

For these and other reasons, including as advised by the Arkansas Attorney General, individuals affected by the Mayflower Oil Spill are urged to seek experienced and qualified legal representation as soon as possible.

Johnson & Vines, PLLC is working with Hare Wynn Newell & Newton in representing individuals who have been affected by the Mayflower Oil Spill. For additional information, please contact us at 501-372-1300 or at info@johnsonvines.com.

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