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The current crisis in the Gulf of Mexico is shaping up to become one of the most costly, but more importantly, one of the most devastating events in our lifetimes.  Those of us who live along the Gulf of Mexico are struggling to make sense of how things could have gotten so bad so fast.  Suddenly, walks along the beaches are nearly impossible due to the bitter odor in the air; odors that are so sharp, you can practically taste them.  Those same beaches that as recently as one month ago were being visited by sunbathers and others wanting to be in the outdoors are now off limits, not by any official, but simply because it’s no longer the same and in fact, could very well be dangerous.  Clearly, there is no end in sight and odds are, the days of watching the sun set while also watching mullet jump in the shallow waters are over if not forever, then for many years.

Most of the coastal residents along Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama have careers that do not include the fishing and other seafood industries; however, few can say they don’t currently have or have had in the past family members who earned their livings on those rich Gulf waters.  It’s for these reasons, and many more, that lawmakers are working to bypass the 2008 Supreme Court decision that limits punitive damages for maritime law.  A. Harrison Barnes, a brilliant attorney and founder of, says the 1:1 ratio of punitive to compensatory damages that were first used in a suit involving Exxon Shipping is where the focus is for attorneys and lawmakers.

Known as “The Big Oil Polluter Pays Act”, this law limits civil actions that come from maritime tort cases in that the punitive damages must be assessed with no regard to the amount of compensatory numbers assessed in the suits.  This, of course, was borne of the tragedy in 1989 that involved the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.  Many lawyers say there was no way of knowing a worse tragedy could eventually happen; after all, lessons were supposed to have been learned that would have prevented what we, as a collective nation, are now facing, says A. Harrison Barnes.

The founder takes it a step further and says these most recent events will likely be the inspiration for many soon to be law grads to go into maritime law.  Anyone who has built their lives on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic or Pacific oceans knows all too well how the salt air affects them.  It’s not surprising then that so many would want to make a difference and put into place those safeguards that will forever prevent another tragedy from happening.  Frankly, anyone who has followed this case knows the grieving so many are going through.  Most importantly, there are eleven families who lost a loved one during the April 20 explosion and now, as the country grieves with them, we are also bombarded with dead dolphins washing ashore, thousands of fish floating in the marshes and the once beautiful birds exclusively found along the gulf coast that are now struggling to even survive.  This, says Barnes, is enough to inspire many to choose maritime law.

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