National attention has recently been given to the Jones Act. Media has focused attention on the protection of the US Flag, on which gCaptain is currently writing an article. But while the media focuses on US Flagged vessels, Congress’ focus is on the inequities in damages available to the families of mariners killed at sea. The rapidly changes to the law pertains directly to Deepwater Horizon families, Majestic Blue families and the families of all seaman lost at sea. Steve Gordon explains;
It is currently considering retroactively amending the Death on the High Seas Act [DOHSA] and the Jones Act to bring judicial fairness in allowing a court to consider non-pecuniary damages when a father, spouse or child is killed at sea. Currently, the law is grossly unfair and is an anomaly in only allowing pecuniary [economic] damages and the seaman’s conscious pain and suffering prior to death if not killed instantly. For example, it currently would not allow a child or spouse to make a claim for their obvious emotional injury due to the loss of the love, care, guidance, etc. of their father, mother, husband or wife. This is clearly out of line with all states’ wrongful death laws as well as even DOHSA as it applies to air crash victims. Seamen play a vital and long standing role in commerce; are considered wards of the court; and are even given special treatment in the U. S. Constitution in the Savings to Suitors Clause. It is time to bring DOHSA and the Jones Act in line with modern day recognition of damages.
Congress is also considering legislation repealing the Exoneration and Limitation of Liability Act from 1851. This arcane law is completely outdated with modern day communication; deprives seaman a choice of their forum which has always been judicially protected; allows a vessel owner to limit its liability to the dead and injured to the value of a vessel’s hull and cargo as it sits on the seabed floor without even including available liability insurance which has been bought and paid for; allows a vessel owner, like Transocean, to receive a hull insurance payment for its hull of $401MIL+ [current value of the Deepwater Horizon] and try to limit its liability to $26.7MIL which is grossly unfair; and should be immediately, and retroactively, repealed, OR, at bare minimums, it should be amended to require the vessel owner to always include all available insurance in the “limitation fund” amount available to the injured and killed seamen.
Congress should also use this time to pass all laws which support the protection of seaman (1) ever being included in multidistrict litigation, e.g., not lumping injury/death Jones Act claims with environmental claims, loss of tourism claims, ecological injuries, etc., which drag out for years and years; and (2) in enforcing the cabotage aspects of the Jones Act, e.g., foreign flagged vessels operating in our waters have skirted USCG manning far too long and not only does this pose safety risks but it also does not support American shipbuilders and American workers’ jobs.
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