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Twenty-eight-year-old Gordon Jones was working as a mud engineer aboard the Deepwater Horizon when the rig exploded, leaving his widow Michelle to care for their two young sons, one born just two weeks ago.

But Gordon’s family and those of the 10 other workers killed in the explosion face severe limitations on what they can recover because of a current law called the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA).

DOHSA is one of several laws which, unless amended by Congress, will leave the families of those killed and injured on the rig, taxpayers, Gulf Coast residents, and small businesses on the hook to pay for BP’s mess. The other two laws include the much-discussed and ridiculously inadequate $75 million cap under the Oil Pollution Act (OPA), which limits BP’s liability for economic damages inflicted on Gulf Coast victims; as well as the Limitation of Liability Act (LOLA), which is the 159-year-old law under which Transocean is seeking to limit its liability to $27 million.

For its part, DOHSA leaves BP immune from compensating the families of those that perished on the rig for the full weight of the relationship they have lost; it doesn’t recognize loss of a loved one as a compensable injury. The law limits BP’s liability to economic damages only, which in most cases means burial costs and the loss of financial support that family member would have provided.

DOHSA does not just significantly discount the worth of a lost loved one’s life, but it is also inconsistent: the law was amended in 2000 so victims of TWA Flight 800 could recover full damages after perishing on the “high seas,” but the same protections were not extended to those killed on vessels like the Transocean rig.

As Gordon Jones’ father Keith Jones stated in his moving testimony before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee May 27, “No amount of money will ever compensate us for Gordon’s loss. We know that. But payment of damages by wrongdoers is the only means we have in this country to make things right. … You must make certain that [the responsible corporations] are exposed to pain in the only place they can feel it: their bank accounts. As a friend recently said, ‘Make them hurt where their heart would be, if they had a heart.’”

DOHSA needs to be amended to provide fair remedies to victims of other maritime disasters on the high seas, starting with the 11 brave men who died on the Deepwater Horizon.

As the owner and operator of the rig, Transocean also certainly bears responsibility for the spill in the Gulf. But the corporation is trying to use the antiquated Limitation of Liability Act to avoid paying states for the damages its rig explosion. LOLA allows the company to claim it is only responsible for the current worth of its now-destroyed rig: $27 million. This relic of a law was passed in 1851 to protect owners that did not have control of their vessels – an unnecessary protection today when insurance and communications technology are standard.

If Gulf Coast disaster victims are to receive adequate compensation for the damage and havoc BP’s spill has wreaked, Congress must act to increase the liability caps under OPA and LOLA, and amend DOHSA to recognize the losses suffered by surviving family members.

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