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Impacts and damages resulting from oil spills in water

Oil spills can have a devastating impact on the health of those nearby, as well as on the surrounding environment. Those that occur on offshore oilrigs can additionally contaminate the body of water in which the rig is located and impair the health of wildlife living in the area. When such a spill occurs, there are various legal actions that can result.

If anyone is injured or killed as a result of the oil spill, any ensuing legal claims for the injuries are typically based on the Jones Act. The Jones Act allows seamen to bring legal actions against their employers for negligent acts committed by the employer. The injured employee is permitted to pursue damages for medical expenses and maintenance pay, as well as punitive damages, if their employer's wrongful conduct was found to be intentional.

In addition to direct injuries caused to workers by an oil spill, legal claims can arise from environmental and business impacts that may result. Oil is considered a noxious substance that can cause injury to humans, animals and plants. This can arise from fumes being swept onto land and oil seeping into groundwater and drinking water. If a fishing or tourism business sustains economic damages as a result of a downturn in business caused by an oil spill, it may be entitled to receive compensation for those damages. Additionally, regulatory and environmental groups may pursue actions against the government or the oil company if they have violated any laws to which they are subject.

Oil spills have a significant impact on those inhabiting the area surrounding the spill. Regardless of the injury giving rise to a legal action, those injured should be aware of the involvement of maritime law if the spill occurs in a body of water.

Source: FindLaw, "Oil Spill Legal Overview," accessed on March 8, 2015

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