Environmental Protection

Lawmakers Call for Probe into Claims Handling by Enbridge

U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer (D-Mich.) and Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair James L. Oberstar (D-Minn.) called for an investigation into the way Enbridge is handling damage claims by spill victims.

The committee has discovered evidence that Enbridge is asking residents to waive legal rights to seek further compensation in exchange for small cash disbursements or items such as air purifiers. The committee also found that those seeking medical treatment for health problems related to the spill have been pressured to sign over medical records to the oil company.

Oberstar and Schauer sent letters to the Department of Justice, the Department of Health and Human Services, and Enbridge in an effort to stem the practice. Schauer also sent a letter to Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox.

“Enbridge’s efforts to take legal advantage of Michigan residents under the stress of the immediate aftermath of the worst oil spill in the region’s history are reprehensible,” Oberstar and Schauer wrote in their letter to the company. “We are outraged that Enbridge would convince or seek to convince residents, workers, and business owners to sign release forms, which attempt to release Enbridge of all liability from claims – in some cases in exchange for an air purifier. We are equally distressed that Enbridge would convince or seek to convince residents with health effects from the oil spill to release all medical records and provide Enbridge with authority to discuss signatories’ medical and psychological condition and treatment directly with residents’ doctors.”

The committee investigation found that Enbridge has convinced, or is seeking to convince, residents, workers, and business owners in the areas impacted by the spill to sign a “Full and Final Settlement Release." The release “discharges Enbridge, its employees, agents, partners, directors, and officers and affiliated companies and their agents, partners, directors, and officers, from and against all liability, claims, actions, causes of action, costs, and expenses, including without limitation claims for personal injuries, property damage, that [the signer] ever had, has, or may have against Enbridge, whether known or unknown related to the incident.”

Many residents told the committee staff that they felt pressured to sign the Enbridge liability release in return for air purifiers that they were led to believe would protect them from the health effects of benzene and other volatile hydrocarbons released in the air as a result of the spill, or reimbursement for hotel and other expenses as a result of the evacuation. Other residents were urged to sign the release upon submittal of their claim forms to Enbridge at the claims centers. Many residents have reported that they had no idea what they were signing.

The committee will hold a hearing on the Enbridge spill in Washington D.C., on Sept. 15.

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