As a maritime wrongful death lawyer, I have been following the BP oil spill disaster very closely. The battle continues in Washington to seek changes in the Maritime compensation laws available to the families of victims killed on the high seas. The Death on the High Seas Act severely restricts compensation to the family members of victims killed aboard a vessel, including oil rigs, when the death occurs on the high seas.
The compensation provided to the families includes only a calculation based on future income loss less the amount the individual who died would have personally consumed, including how much of his income would have been taken away in taxes. Often times, this leaves very little compensation to the family members.
In a moving and compelling interview on NBC Nightly News, two of the widows of victims killed on the Deep Water Horizon Oil Rig told NBC Nightly News about the harshness and unfairness with these laws. The Maritime laws provide no compensation for their children, and without any justification treat the family members different than if the deaths had occurred elsewhere, or not on a vessel. The interview clearly demonstrates that there is absolutely no rational basis for the archaic limitations contained in the Death on the High Seas Act.
As stated in the segment from NBC Nightly News, the politics involved is causing a delay in the amendment of this harsh law, including heavy opposition from the cruise ship industry.
Many passengers and crewmembers we have represented have faced the harsh reality that their wrongful death claims were subject to these harsh limitations. It is always a difficult task as a Maritime personal injury attorney to explain to families of victims killed onboard a ship on the high seas that the law doesn’t recognize non economic damages. When we are asked to explain the rationale behind the Death on the High Seas Act, we simply cannot do so because there is no rationale other than protection of special interests, such as the cruise ship industry and the shipping industry in general, including oil rigs. The BP Oil spill disaster has demonstrated the need to no longer provide protections to these special interest groups, and to hold them fully accountable for complete compensation for wrongful deaths.
Our firm is keeping a close eye on the new legislation that has been proposed to amend the Death on the High Seas Act, and we will advise on any developments.