BP explosion exposes antiquated laws and limits

Members of Congress are working to repeal the Death on the High Seas Act of 1920 (commonly referred to as DOSHA), an antiquated law that sets limits on the damages that family members and other dependents can collect in the wake of a deadly offshore incident.

The push to repeal the law is being driven by Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and other members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who have conducted hearings on BP’s April 20 rig explosion that killed 11 workers and created an uncontrollable oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. In the hearings, the wives of two of the workers killed by the blast testified that BP had been experiencing problems aboard the Deepwater Horizon weeks before the explosion, much to the worry of the rig’s staff.

Natalie Roshto of Liberty, Mississippi, and Courtney Kemp of Jonesville, Louisiana, told an Energy and Commerce subcommittee that the maritime law unfairly restricts how much compensation companies must pay to survivors of workers killed at sea. Their husbands, Shane Roshto, 22, and Roy Wyatt Kemp, 27, were employees for Transocean, owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig that BP rented for exploratory drilling. Movable oil rigs such as the Deepwater Horizon are legally classified as oceangoing vessels under U.S. law.

The 90-year-old DOSHA law allows for the recovery of monetary damages but does not allow for claims seeking non-pecuniary damages – damages that aren’t strictly monetary in nature. Damages for wrongful death under DOSHA are calculated based upon the value of the financial benefit that would have been received by the relative from the decedent, subtracting any amount that would have gone toward supporting and maintaining the decedent himself.

The DOSHA limits are especially troubling to lawmakers involved with the BP case because evidence continues to mount that the deadly explosion was likely the result of negligence and possible criminal acts.

In their testimony to the panel, Mrs. Roshto and Mrs. Kemp said that in weeks prior to the explosion, their husbands told them about all the problems rig workers were having in controlling the well.

“This well was different in the fact that they were having so many problems, and so many things were happening, and it was just kind of out of hand,” said Mrs. Kemp, 26. “My family can never and will never be adequately compensated for our loss. What I am seeking is accountability from the wrongdoers who caused this terrible tragedy,” she told the panel.

Mrs. Roshto said that her husband was extremely worried about “all the mud they were losing” from the well. As pressure was building up in the subsea well, more pressure was coming down from BP executives who ordered the workers to drill faster in an effort to save time and money. Both Mr. Roshto and Mr. Kemp had worked on the Deepwater Horizon for four years.

“This tragedy will not be in vain if it serves to make the lives of every man and woman working in the oilfield the top priority and cause the powerful oil companies to know that they will be held accountable for their actions,” Mrs. Roshto told the congressional panel.

What went wrong?” she asked, directing her question to BP executives. “Why weren’t you out there trying to do something in the weeks before when they were having problems?”

Wrongful death and negligence lawsuits have been filed against BP, Transocean, and other companies involved in the Deepwater Horizon blast by surviving family members.

For more information on the workers who were killed in the explosion, go to http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/05/04/gulf-oil-rig-workers-fami_n_562239.html