Legislation To Amend Death On The High Seas Act And Other Key Maritime Laws Postponed

Legislation currently pending with the Senate to address various Maritime Laws, including the Limitation of Liability Act, the Jones Act, and the Death on the High Seas Act, has been postponed due to opposition to the legislation which was passed by the House.

The deep water horizon BP Oil spill has brought attention to the specialty of Maritime Law. Maritime Law issues have been discussed daily in the newspapers, and lawmakers are getting their first taste of special Maritime laws that have been on the books for decades.

Some of the Maritime Laws being addressed are ancient, outdated, and inconsistent with our system of justice which is designed to fully and fairly compensate victims of accidents and deaths caused by negligence or fault of another.

One of the laws seeking to be changed is the existing 75 Million Dollar cap for those who own offshore facilities that are responsible for oil spills, which is a limitation under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. The BP Oil spill has brought to light the need to reform this law and other laws.

The Death on the High Seas Act and the Jones Act, both restrict the type of damages that injured seamen or surviving family members of those killed at sea may collect from shipowners. The Death on the High Seas Act also applies to passengers, including passengers aboard cruise ships. When someone loses a loved one aboard a vessel or ship, the survivors are limited to recovering economic damages such as the loss of support. They are not allowed to seek punitive damages regardless of the recklessness of the conduct, nor are they allowed to recover what the law refers to as loss of society damages, which are the non economic damages which are designed to compensate for the anguish and sorrow of losing a loved one.

Cruise ship passengers are affected by the limitation under the Death on the High Seas Act. The cruise ship industry has been very active in lobbying against any changes to the Jones Act or the Death on the High Seas Act that would apply to their industry because of the increased amount of compensation that would be available in a wrongful death case against the cruise ship company. This is despite the fact that no one will recover for wrongful death unless they prove the cruise ship company acted negligently. Similarly no one can recover punitive damages under the law unless they prove reckless conduct which is almost of a criminal nature.

The cruise ship company would like to maintain the law that currently says no matter how reckless their conduct is which results in the death of a passenger on the high seas, they cannot be held liable for anymore than economic damages, and they cannot be sued for punitive damages.

The BP Oil spill has clearly shown the need for the availability of punitive damages, and the need to reform Maritime laws to get rid of these ridiculous caps on liability and damages available to the shipping industry, including the cruise ship industry.

Our maritime crewmember and passenger rights firm supports abolition of the Limitation of Liability Act, which is a law dating back to 1851 which will limit damages in a Maritime disaster to the value of the ship or vessel, calculated after the disaster. Many times the ship or vessel is a total a loss, having no value, and then there is a formula for calculating the fund which will be used to compensate the victims of the Maritime disaster. The Titanic sinking was reason for the enactment of limitation of liability for shipping companies. Most often, in a Maritime disaster, the fund available in the Limitation of Liability Action is insufficient to fairly and fully compensate the victims, or surviving family members.

The Jones Act, which allows a seaman who is injured, or surviving family members of the seamen killed, to sue the employer for negligence, does not allow for recovery of punitive damages or non economic damages for wrongful death. The Death on the High Seas Act applies to all actions for wrongful death occurring outside the territorial waters of the United States.

The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 currently has a 75 Million Dollar liability cap for an owner of offshore facilities that are involved in a spill such as the BP Oil spill situation.
All readers, please write your Congressmen to support getting rid of these harsh and unfair limitations of liability and damages available to the shipping industry. If any reader needs a letter to send to their Congressmen, our firm would be happy to provide a representative letter sent out to members of the Congress urging them to support the legislation abolishing these unfair limitations.