Having taught Continuing Legal Education (CLE) seminars on a variety of topics including Chinese drywall and, soon, oil leak litigation, lead attorney Jeffrey Berniard has been a relied upon expert on matters relating to claims and the wide variety of problems and delays claimants, and their attorneys, often face in such processes. Interviewed for his expertise relating to the recent Deepwater Horizon oil leak, Berniard highlighted a little considered problem that commercial workman like fisherman and others who make a living in the Gulf might face. Given that the nature of their job involves extensive self-reporting and tax analysis, the flexibilities or evasions of tax income that those who work off the coast might have carried out might significantly limit their ability to collect damages. If that is the case, careful legal analysis and work by an experienced attorney may be the difference between thousands of dollars in compensation.
While talking to New Orleans City Business (articles available to subscribers only), Berniard was asked about the difficulties some might face in collecting damages caused by the oil spill
“It’s the same issues we dealt with after Katrina in terms of (Small Business Administration) loans,” he said.
In the event of Katrina, insurance companies and loan groups often asked for proof of earnings that small business owners struggled to provide. In those instances, the owners were forced to either accept little to no assistance or hire an attorney that would be able to get them the money they needed. Using a variety of processes including getting records from employers, customers, average yields of similar fisherman, etc., hiring the right attorney can mean a world of difference.
Because bigger businesses can often afford to have a professional tackle their taxes year in and out, this problem will likely be dealt with by small business owners who work in a cash-heavy industry. Berniard also noted that “eligibility for damages claims typically requires paperwork from the Internal Revenue Service to prove yearly earnings.” This is another area where larger businesses with complex filing systems will come out of the claims process easier than those businesses who might not be able to afford the proper storage or formatting required to keep complex and lengthy paper trails for the sake of proving earnings. Without proper representation, this may lead to small businesses closing shop merely because they had kept their buying and selling on a cash basis.
Oil Spill Pollution Act claims will be a prominent issue as Gulf Coast workers struggle to make ends meet during restrictions in fishing because of the miles upon miles of floating crude oil. While these problems with income proof will likely not be an issue for most of the small businesses in the area, years of delays from storm damage have shown that the claims process will likely be a difficult one. Local individuals wishing to pursue a claim for lost wages or damage to their property are advised to keep close records of business before and after the spill as well as to begin collecting as much financial data as possible from previous years. While an attorney like Mr. Berniard could be able to achieve results without such records, the more assistance you can provide to an attorney helping manage your claim the more likely the claims process will move forward successfully. By being prepared with extensive records in the event of any sort of audit or claims investigation that can come from their claim, local victims may successfully prove their claim.
Our firm will be releasing more information on how to file an oil loss claim. Feel free to bookmark our site and check in often for more news and helpful directions as they become available. If you feel you have a claim to make, contact our offices and an attorney will help advise you on your rights in this matter.