In the wake of the June oil spill that contaminated Red Butte Creek, Liberty Park pond and beyond, those impacted paid out-of-pocket to protect themselves from the toxic side effects of the spill. Chevron issued an invitation to those people to submit claims for spill-related expenses and many took them up on that invitation. What they received in response is not what they expected.
Those who submitted claims recently received a two page response from Chevron. The first page was pleasant enough, but the second page caught the attention of recipients. Here is an excerpt from page two:
It is understood and agreed that this settlement is the compromise of a doubtful and disputed claim, and that the payment is not made to be construed as an admission of liability on the part of the party or parties hereby released, and that said releases deny liability therefore and intend merely to avoid litigation and buy their peace.
And the release covers all claims:
. . . in any way growing out of any and all known and unknown, foreseen and unforeseen bodily and personal injuries and property damage and the consequences thereof . . .
Thats right, Chevron slipped in a complete release of all claims in any way related to the spill, even though many people are simply looking to get their immediate hotel and living expenses reimbursed at this time and it is unclear what the long term consequences of the spill may be.
Chevron has paid some of the submitted claims even though the claimants have not signed the releases, but there are those who will sign without really understanding the consequences. For its part, Chevron has "acknowledged the concern" over the releases and claims that it is retooling its claims process. A spokesman indicated that the original intent of the releases was simply to have an acknowledgment of any payments made. Really? That’s all? I can help them with that difficult issue:
The undersigned hereby acknowledges receipt of $ ____ as reimbursement for claim expenses submitted on claim form ___.
Signed _______________, Claimant.
There you have it. Done. No sweeping you’re done with Chevron claims forever, no matter what.
Chevron is an oil industry power house with armies of well paid lawyers who have dealt with claims issues for decades. Yet they expect the public to simply accept the explanation that their intent with the releases has been misinterpreted or has somehow manifested itself in an unintended way. That simply does not resonate as being genuine.
Bret Hanna of Wrona DuBois in Utah, focuses exclusively on litigating plaintiffs’ medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. He has represented clients in state and federal courts, in mediations, and in administrative proceedings in Michigan and Utah since 1991.