On July 1, 2010, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation responding to a 1920 law known as the “Death on the High Seas Act” that caps monetary damages at $75 million for an oil spill. As a result of this law, the families of the eleven workers who died in the Deepwater Horizon explosion off of Louisiana’s gulf coast are only entitled to receive payment for funeral expenses and a portion of future lost wages. The explosion occurred in the early moments of what has since become the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
Unfortunately, partisan divide in the Senate and the August recess has delayed passage of the legislation until at least September. To get Senate approval, the bill would need 60 votes and it faces stiff opposition from Senate Republicans. Until Senate approval and the reconciliation of differences between the bills, the Death on the High Seas Act will remain in effect preventing the families from seeking larger damages for the loss of their loved ones.
The families of the deceased Deepwater Horizon workers have traveled to Washington, D.C. on several occasions to lobby and give testimony supporting changes to the law. In addition to more just financial compensation, the families want to change the antiquated law to prevent companies from taking risks and putting workers in danger.
Business groups including the oil industry, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and cruise companies oppose changes to the Death on the High Seas Act. They argue that lifting the $75 million cap would put maritime industries at risk to higher costs and legal burdens. The Cruise Lines International Association said that the bill would allow “foreign nationals to seek damages in American courts for incidents that occur outside our boundaries and have no connection to the U.S.”