Maritime Laws Protecting BP, Not Gulf Coast Residents

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For Immediate Release: May 27, 2010

Contact: Jamie Hammon
American Association for Justice
202-965-3500 x8369
AAJ Press Room

Maritime Laws Protecting BP, Not Gulf Coast Residents

Hearing today will examine legal liability issues surrounding the disaster

Washington, DC—Twenty-eight-year-old Gordon Jones was working as a mud engineer aboard the Deepwater Horizon when the rig exploded, leaving his widow Michelle to care for their two young sons, one born just two weeks ago.

Gordon’s father, Keith Jones of Baton Rouge, La., will be one of three Gulf Coast disaster victims testifying today before the House Judiciary Committee during a hearing on legal liability issues surrounding the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion and subsequent oil spill. Other witnesses include an engineer who suffered a head injury but survived the explosion, and a rig worker who refused to sign a liability waiver offered by BP.

The Jones’ and the families of the 10 other workers killed in the explosion face severe limitations on what they can recover because of a current law called the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA). The law was amended in 2000 so victims of TWA Flight 800 could recover full damages after perishing on the “high seas,” but the same protections were not extended to those killed on vessels like the Transocean rig.

“BP is immune from entirely compensating these families for the horrible way in which their loved ones died and the relationship they have now lost,” said American Association for Justice President Anthony Tarricone. “DOHSA needs to be amended to provide fair remedies to victims of other maritime disasters on the high seas, starting with the 11 brave men who died on the Deepwater Horizon.”

In addition to the inadequate remedies provided by DOHSA, the Oil Pollution Act (OPA) and the Limitation of Liability Act (LOLA) also significantly restrict the liability of BP and Transocean.

OPA caps BP’s liability at $75 million, an amount that would not even begin to compensate Gulf Coast residents and businesses.

Transocean is also seeking to limit its liability to $27 million by relying on LOLA, which allows the company to claim it is only responsible for the current worth of its now-destroyed rig. The law was passed in 1851 to protect owners that did not have control of their vessels – an unnecessary protection today when insurance and communications technology are standard.

“Unless these laws are amended, BP can look forward to significant immunity while the families of the workers killed and injured by the original explosion, as well as shrimpers, oystermen, fishermen, hotels and restaurants will face an uphill battle for justice,” Tarricone said. “A strong civil justice system – with updated maritime laws in tow – is needed to protect the future of the Gulf Coast and its residents.”

The House Judiciary hearing will begin at 9:30am in 2141 Rayburn.

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