Following the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster and Transocean’s limit of liability lawsuit, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee passed H.R. 5503, Securing Protections for the Injured from Limitations on Liability Act (SPILL Act). The SPILL Act will update the provisions of the following three bills dating from the mid 1800s to the early 1900s: Death on High Seas Act (1920), Jones Act (1920), and the Limitation on Liability Act (1851).
Specifically, HR 5503 would:
Amend the Death on the High Seas Act (dating from 1920) to permit recovery of non-pecuniary damages (e.g., pain and suffering and loss of care, comfort, and companionship) by the decedent’s family, as well as standardizing the geographic threshold for its application, and permitting surviving family members to bring suit directly rather than through a personal representative.
Amend the Jones Act (dating from 1920) to permit recovery of non-pecuniary damages by the families of seamen who are killed.
Repeal the outmoded Limitation on Liability Act (dating from 1851) which limits the liability of vessel owners to the value of the vessel and its cargo.
Clarify the class action rules so that impacted States can seek effective legal remedies in their own courts.
Render unenforceable restrictions on disclosing information about offshore spills of oil and other pollutants.
Strengthen bankruptcy rules to prevent corporations responsible for widespread damages under the Oil Pollution Act from seeking to sever their assets from the legal liabilities they owe to innocent victims.
Apply these changes to pending and future legal claims.
This legislation allows a spouse, child and/or parent to potentially recover “non-pecuniary” damages in maritime death cases. Currently, the law only permits pecuniary damages and pre-death pain and suffering, if any, as legal elements of recovery. This change is necessary to bring these types of claims in line with modern day recognition of injuries associated with the loss of a close family member.