Congress should repeal the 90-year-old law that limits the amount of money survivors can recover in the deaths of family members killed in the Gulf of Mexico oil rig explosion. Rep. Edward Markey, (D-MA), and other members of the House Energy and Commerce committee, believe the April 20th Deepwater Horizon explosion exposed the need to reform the 1920 Death on the High Seas Act, which limits liability for wrongful deaths more than three miles offshore. On this subject Rep. Markey stated:

One way we can hurt BP is to make sure that ‘BP’ stands for ‘bills paid,’ that the money for families, the money to clean up the Gulf comes out of their pocket, and that we repeal the Death on the High Seas Act.

Rep. Markey made that comment after listening to testimony from the widows of two workers killed in the tragic explosion.  Natalie Roshto of Liberty, Miss., and Courtney Kemp of Jonesville, La., told an Energy and Commerce subcommittee last month that the maritime law unfairly limits how much money companies must pay in employee deaths at sea. Their husbands, Shane Roshto and Roy Wyatt Kemp, worked for Transocean Ltd., which owned the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. BP PLC operated the rig, which under maritime law was considered an ocean-going vessel and registered under the flag of the Marshall Islands, a small island chain in the Pacific Ocean. As we all know, 11 innocent men were tragically killed in the explosion.

Congress should also repeal the law on maritime deaths retroactively, which would affect the deaths in the gulf. Congress clearly has an obligation to fix the law. Rep. Markey was correct when he said Congress never intended to limit the amounts families could recover under circumstances like these. But many of the laws passed by Congress over the years favor wrongdoers and penalize their victims. Lobbyists for the special interests have pretty much had their way.

Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-LA) called the law “egregious” and said it has to be changed. According to Rep. Bart Stupak, (D-MI), chairman of the oversight and investigations subcommittee, the field hearing was intended to draw attention to the local effects of the oil spill, which still remains uncapped and is the largest spill in U.S. history. Nine lawmakers – seven Democrats and two Republicans – attended a four-hour hearing held at the St. Bernard Parish government building near New Orleans.

The two young women told the panel that their husbands had told them in the weeks before the explosion about problems they were having in controlling the well. Mrs. Roshto testified that her husband was especially worried about “all the mud they were losing” from the well. Both women said the crews were feeling the pressure to deliver oil more quickly. The members of Congress should listen to the pleas of these women and change the law.

Source: Associated Press

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