Under the TAPAA, if oil that has been transported through the Trans-Alaska Pipeline spills, the owner and operator of the vessel and the TAPLF shall be strictly liable for all damages caused by an oil spill.(84) "Strict liability for all claims arising out of any one incident shall not exceed $100,000,000."(85) If the total claims allowed exceed $100 million, each persons' claims are reduced proportionately.(86) The unpaid portion of any claim can be sought from the defendants in the courts.
In the case of the Exxon Valdez, the amount of damages quickly exceeded the $100 million cutoff.(88) To prevent the court from using the Robins Dry Dock doctrine, several plaintiffs groups argued that the State of Alaska, through a state law known as the Alaska Act, expanded the TAPAA in such a way that there would be no monetary limit.
Many plaintiffs and even some legal scholars argued that the court should not have applied the Robins Dry Dock Rule.(114) Some argued that the "Robins Dry Dock doctrine is antiquated."(115) Other scholars argued that because of this rule the "injurer seems to get off scot free on the basis of a technicality."(116) Still other plaintiffs argued that even if Robins is an acceptable doctrine, in this case state law should have preempted the federal maritime rule.(117) Indeed, Alaska has a state law similar to the TAPAA except that it does not have a monetary limit for strict liability claims.
Approximately 29,000 claims were filed under TAPAA
, which holds that the owner and operator of a vessel are strictly liable for government response costs, natural resource damages, and any economic damages or losses sustained by any person or entity that results from an oil spill in the region up to $14 million.
The Ninth Circuit reviewed the district court's interpretation of the TAPAA strict liability provisions de novo.
The court next reviewed TAPAA's legislative history and found nothing expressly conditioning strict liability on a ship having been loaded at an Alaskan Pipeline terminal.
Finally, the court reviewed regulations of three federal agencies charged with implementing TAPAA. The Department of the Interior, the Federal Maritime Commission, and the Coast Guard each interpret Section 1653 as applying to trans-loaded oil.