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August 2nd, 2010

Expanding DOHSA Damages Through the Spill Act

Schechter, Shaffer & Harris, L.L.P., Accident & Injury Lawyers , Partner Matthew Shaffer was quoted in an article on Law.com concerning the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig explosion, subsequent massive oil spill and related federal laws which address the damages available to injured parties.

“A number of politicians have set their sights on the Death on the High Seas Act and the Jones Act, passed in 1920 partially in response to the sinking of the Titanic eight years earlier. Both laws restrict damages that injured seamen or the survivors of those killed at sea may collect from vessel owners. For example, most of the workers killed on the Deepwater Horizon fall under the Jones Act. Their survivors may collect economic damages such as loss of support, but not punitive damages or loss of society damages that can significantly drive up the compensation amount. A similar rule applies under the Death on the High Seas Act, which limits damages for others killed at sea including cruise ship passengers.

“The law is basically saying that the relationship [between the victim and their survivors] itself is worth nothing,” said Thomas Galligan Jr., president of Colby-Sawyer College in New London, N.H. He is a maritime law expert who has testified during multiple congressional hearings since the Gulf spill. “That seems to be inconsistent with the modern views of life and relationships.”

Expanding the damages available to those injured or killed at sea would bring maritime law in line with tort law throughout the nation and should have been done years ago, said Houston attorney Matthew Shaffer. He represents three of the injured Deepwater Horizon workers and the family of one who was killed.

Several bills have been introduced to expand availability of damages, including the Securing Protections for the Injured from Limitation on Liability Act — the SPILL Act — which the House of Representatives approved on July 1. The cruise industry has lobbied against the move, arguing that it would lead to costly litigation.”

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