Total found guilty of Erika Oil Spill, sort of

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Some interesting legal developments in France, reported in LeMonde. The country’s top appeal court, the Court of Cassation, has quashed a lower appeal court decision that had ruled in favour of Total oil group in a suit launched by the French seaside resort of Mesquer for reimbursement of the cost of removing oil from the Erika which washed up on its coastline in 1999. Now the Court of Cassation is indicating that oil spilled from the Erika in 1999 can be considered as waste. As such, Mesquer’s claim must be tested under the terms of the European Union waste directive, because it is unclear whether an energy product like oil can be considered waste. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has been asked to give an opinion on the matter. The body recently ruled that that oil spilled accidentally could be considered as waste if it has been mixed with water and sediment.

Though the case is now headed to another court, the findings so far have put the blame on Total for not ensuring the vessel it hired was of adequate quality. Total has already spent 112 million euros, but the authorities want more. 

The mayor of Mesquer, a city heavily affected by the spill stated, “Ce qui nous intéresse, c’est la jurisprudence qui va faire que les propriétaires de cargaison feront désormais attention aux bateaux qu’ils vont louer pour la transporter”, a ajouté M. Bernard.

This is yet another indication that companies will continue to be held responsible, at least in part, for the actions of contractors and transporters.