It appears that BP and others involved in the current oil spill may be taking their cues from insurance carriers. Insurers have always hedged their bets by saying that they would pay “legitimate claims” after disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the Northridge Earthquake. This is a brilliant public relations strategy. It allows top executives to go on television and tell the world that the company cares and will do whatever it can to make people whole again. It leaves the general public with a warm and fuzzy feeling of security, even when the insurer has absolutely no intention of promptly and fully paying the full amount of damages owed.

Most of you who read this blog picked up on the qualifying term in the foregoing paragraph immediately. “We will pay all legitimate claims.” To the average person, this does not sound like a problem. After all, nobody should take advantage of the system and obtain relief that they are not entitled to after a disaster. Unfortunately, as most people who have dealt with these types of situations already know, the word legitimate is used as an escape hatch for large companies who want to boost their public perception while at the same time minimizing the damages that they pay to those who are affected by a disaster.

BP’s stance on what damages it will pay for the disaster caused by its oil varies, depending on what time of day you watch the news. One broadcast on the 5:00 p.m. news shows a BP spokesman saying that the company will take full responsibility for the damages caused by the oil; at 11:00 p.m. the same day, another spokesman says that the disaster was not BP’s fault.

Thankfully, some officials are not fooled by the warm and fuzzy reassurances of BP and others involved in the recent oil spill. “We don’t know what is a legitimate claim. That’s lawyer speak at a time when we need straight talk and clear answers,” said Alabama Attorney General Troy King.

Florida Senator Bill Nelson has also filed federal legislation to raise the 75 million dollar cap to 10 billion dollars to make sure that those responsible for the current crisis are not off the hook. He follows Attorney General King’s position that “[w]e will do whatever is necessary to make the people of Alabama [and Florida] whole.”

While the current public sentiment is that BP and others responsible for the drilling should be held accountable for the damages their oil spill has created, those companies also know that the tendency is for the public to quit paying attention to these types of stories after a few months. The longer those responsible hold out, dodge tough questions, and avoid answering whether or not they will pay ALL of the economic damages incurred as a result of this spill, the more likely it is that BP and others will avoid full responsibility. Attorney General King is right, this is a time for “straight talk and clear answers,” which can’t come soon enough.