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Press Release

House Subcommittee Witness: "Maritime Victims Deserve the Same Rights as Everyone Else"

November 14,2019

Washington, DC—Today, the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation held a hearing on Capitol Hill to look at commercial and passenger vessel safety. Subcommittee witness Paul Sterbcow, an attorney who represents victims of maritime catastrophe, encouraged Congress to exercise their legislative authority to update antiquated laws such as the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) and the Limitation of Liability Act (LOLA).

Echoing Sterbcow’s testimony, American Association for Justice CEO Linda Lipsen said, “Injured maritime passengers and families of killed loved ones are currently deprived of the rights and remedies that are granted to other victims. It’s long past time for Congress to update these laws for the victims of tragedies at sea.”

Today’s hearing highlighted how Congress needs to update outmoded admiralty laws to reflect modern maritime technology which allows owners to remain in constant contact with their vessels. The statutes were enacted to encourage shipbuilders and did not contemplate recreational cruising and other passenger excursions which are so popular today.

  • For example, if a duck boat sinks in a river or lake, the owners can limit their liability to the value of the sunken vessel under the LOLA, but if the duck boat smashes into a vehicle on land and causes passenger injuries, the duck boat is treated like a commercial vehicle, not a vessel. It would not matter to the injured passengers whether the duck boat was on the street or in a lake.
  • Under the DOHSA, families who lose a loved one on the high seas due to a commercial aviation crash have a remedy, but those on a cruise ship, ferry, other vessel or non-commercial plane do not have similar remedies. It is unreasonable for the DOHSA to limit remedies to lost wages and not provide recoveries for the loss of a loved one.

“Injured passengers of maritime catastrophes and their grieving families must be kept at the forefront as Congress looks to fix the inadequacies of these outdated maritime laws,” concluded Lipsen.

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