Deepwater Horizon Explosion Draws Much-Needed Attention to Maritime Laws

As a maritime lawyer, I know for a fact that admiralty laws are some of the most misunderstood and least well-known of laws. It's highly likely that most Americans have never heard of the Jones Act, and even if they've heard of it, have no idea what it involves. There is even lesser chance that most Americans have heard of the Death on the High Seas Act, or even the Limitation of Liability Act. Some of that is changing since the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico in April. Since the explosion, the mainstream media has been devoting much space to discussions of maritime law. For instance, there is plenty of discussion right now about a possible repeal of the Death on the High Seas Act which severely limits compensation to the families of people killed out at sea. The cruise ship lobby and the oil industry are both lobbying hard to prevent such a repeal. Last week, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times discussed efforts that are going on to tweak these laws. Many of these laws, like DOHSA, now seem antiquated and obsolete. One law that I would like to see repealed is the Limitation of Liability Act, which Transocean invoked when it rushed to limit the extent of its liability after the Deepwater Horizon explosion. The Death on the High Seas Act in its current form also needs to go. It's appalling that families of people killed more than 12 nautical miles from US shores have very restricted compensation available to them for their losses. Often this compensation can barely be enough to cover their funeral expenses. Unfortunately, it can sometimes take a massive disaster of this magnitude to force some traction on this issue. Hopefully when all the dust settles, we will have amended maritime laws that promise speedier, abundant justice for victims.

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