Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Changes to maritime laws motivated by politics, lawyer says

Since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in April, some groups, including trial lawyers, see the incident as an opportunity to make changes to the federal statutes that cover injuries and deaths in the maritime industry. However many business interests see the changes as unnecessary and fear the proposals would open the flood gates to needless litigation that will cripple the maritime industry and destroy jobs. Mark Freeman, a maritime defense attorney with Baldo Stevens Freeman & Lighty in Beaumont, thinks the push for change is not necessarily motivated by a desire to help families. "It is a political reaction to the BP issue," Freeman said in a telephone interview. "An environmental event is being used to change not only the Jones Act, but other marine statutes and ship owners' liability as well." By a voice vote in early July, the House of Representatives approved the Securing Protections for the Injured from Limitations on Liability Act. The SPILL Act amended the decades-old Death on the High Seas Act, the Jones Act and the Limitation of Liability Act. The changes would allow families of the deceased oil workers to recover non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, loss of care, comfort and companionship. The change would also apply to passengers of ships on the high seas, including cruise lines.

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