Husky Energy is requiring anyone with a bodily injury claim in the wake of last week's Superior refinery fire to sign liability waivers, which could prevent the signee from taking future legal action against the company.
Husky has received more than 1,000 claims following the explosion and fire that left 21 people injured and led to the evacuation of an entire city overnight, but very few of those claims involve injury, the company said Friday in an email.
One legal expert said the move - which is akin to saying 'we don't want to hear from you again on this' - isn't unusual.
"They agree to give a certain amount of money now, based on a claim, in exchange for an agreement not to come later and ask for more," said Carol Chomsky, a law professor at the University of Minnesota Law School.
Chomsky said the extent of public health problems caused by the Husky fire might not be known for years.
Matthew Lein, an attorney in Hayward, agreed.
"Right now, you may not notice any problems, but you might in a few months or a year," Lein
said. "Don't give up anything you are entitled to under the law."
Most of the claims are for evacuation expenses - transportation, lodging and lost wages - and liability waivers are not required for those, said Mel Duvall, a media and issues manager for Husky. For people wishing to submit claims, the number to call is 1-855-527-5002.
Husky spokeswoman Kim Guttormson explained the company's procedure:
"A liability waiver is only required for a bodily injury claim, and only once a settlement is reached with the resident," Guttormson said. "In these cases a medical authorization release form would be required, as is standard practice."
A request by the News Tribune for a copy of the liability waiver was not met - but Guttormson said Husky is "using the standard industry form" - and a question asking if the liability waiver would prevent signees from taking any future legal action against Husky went unanswered by Duvall.
If someone experiences health issues related to the fire, Lein and Chomsky said it's best to seek legal help before going to Husky with any injury claims.
Superior Mayor Jim Paine had said in previous press releases and in a Facebook post that "They (Husky) are not asking for release of liability," but he has since offered a correction on Facebook, writing, "you may want to seek advice from an attorney. Husky is still paying incidental expenses without requiring a release of liability."
A representative from the mayor's office said Friday it wasn't clarified by Husky until after the initial Facebook posts and press releases were made.
"The oil company won't say it, but they're looking out for themselves. They're trying to minimize their liability," Lein said.