American Commercial Lines LLC has agreed to pay the federal government $20 million for removal costs and damages from a 2008 oil spill caused by a barge collision on the Mississippi. This resolves claims that were headed toward a November trial. The company and the government came to an agreement that $20 million is a “fair and reasonable” amount to repay funds spent by the federal government under the Oil Pollution Act in the aftermath of the collision. Nearly 300,000 gallons of oil were spilled into the Mississippi River. The suit stems from a July 2008 accident in which a Laurin Maritime Inc. tanker, the Tintomara, had collided with an ACL oil barge being towed by a tugboat, spilling the oil into the lower Mississippi River.
In July 2016, ACL contested some specific sets of claims in the case, including those that were submitted by businesses whose docks and boats were not directly oiled by the spill, but who lost the use of the Mississippi River because the government closed parts of it. The company also contested some reimbursement claims from contractors that the company said were inflated or not properly filed. In September, U.S. District Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle rejected the company’s efforts to challenge those claims.
Judge Lemelle in January 2015 had granted the government’s motion for summary judgment on liability, finding that ACL is the “responsible party” under the Oil Pollution Act (OPA). At the time the judge also rejected ACL’s defense that a third-party tugboat operator, DRD Towing Co. LLC, was solely at fault for the accident. The company’s argument that it was entitled to limit its liability under the OPA was also rejected by Judge Lemelle. According to the joint stipulation filed with the court, the settlement should not be interpreted as a waiver of the company’s right to challenge Judge Lemmelle’s January 2015 order. The company did agree to “forego any appeal of any other orders of the district court in this case.”
According to the settlement, the $20 million did not cover the government’s natural resource damage claims from the incident, which were “unaffected” by the settlement and preserved. The case is U.S. v. American Commercial Lines LLC et al. in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
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