THE BLOG
07/07/2010 10:49 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Holding Corporate Polluters Accountable

Unfortunately, it is only through disaster or tragedy when people begin to understand why a strong civil justice system is so necessary. Whether it is runaway Toyota cars, collapsing mines, the BP oil rig blowout, or the worst financial crisis in a generation, all of these underscore why a legal system that holds wrongdoers accountable is critical to providing Americans justice.

As the devastation from BP's oil rig disaster grows, today the American Association for Justice released a new report detailing how corporations have evaded environmental laws for decades, only to later be held accountable and responsible for clean-up through the civil justice system.

When the environmental movement was born in the 1960s and 1970s, a slew of laws were passed to protect the outdoors. But lax enforcement left corporations little incentive to comply. Ultimately, trial attorneys sought justice for communities destroyed by corporate polluters.

In 1989, the Exxon Valdez struck a reef off the Alaskan coast and spilled more than 10 million gallons of oil over 1,000 miles of remote coastline. Exxon's response was to embark on a campaign to avoid responsibility that would last decades. They were hoping that those who had been injured would just give up. Although they fought Alaskan fishermen and residents for 20 years, ultimately, Exxon was held accountable through the civil justice system and forced to clean up their mess.

The BP oil spill will undoubtedly result in long-term devastation. Given the history of corporate behavior in the wake of such disasters, it is clear trial attorneys and the civil justice system will play a vital role in holding BP accountable and helping to return the Gulf to the state it once was.

To learn more and see this new report, visit www.justice.org/environment.