12.09.10

Republicans Object To Passing Bill To Help Families Of Oil Rig Explosion

WASHINGTON (Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010) – A consent request offered by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to consider legislation to allow families of the victims of the April explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig to seek justice in court met with objection from Republican Senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) Thursday afternoon.  Leahy (D-Vt.) is the author of legislation, called the Survivors Equality Act (SEA), that would permit families of victims killed on the high seas to be treated fairly and receive compensation on an expedited basis. 

For months, Leahy has been working with Senators on both sides of the aisle to advance legislation to amend the Death on the High Seas Act to allow families of victims of the Deepwater Horizon explosion to recover compensation for the loss to their families, as well as fair compensation for the victims’ pain and suffering.  The Death on the High Seas Act is one of few exclusive federal remedies for families of those killed in international waters, yet the law does not permit the widows who lost their husbands and the children who lost their fathers to recover for the loss of care or companionship.  However, families of wrongful death victims who are killed at a job site on land are able to recover such damages.  The legislation Leahy sought to consider Thursday would specifically eliminate this disparity for families of the Deepwater Horizon victims. 

“The families of the Deepwater Horizon victims have suffered enough,” said Leahy.  “While corporations duck and dodge responsibility for these economic disasters, these families are coping with the loss of their fathers, husbands, sons and brothers.  This narrow legislation will allow their claims to proceed in a faster way and help bring justice to these families.  This is not about politics.  This should not be partisan.  This is about justice for these kids who are facing a Christmas without their fathers and closure for the widows who are bravely fighting for their families.  There is no justification for the failure to act on this deeply personal and tragic issue.”

Congress has amended the Death on the High Seas Act previously to allow families of victims of airline crashes over international waters to recover non-economic damages.  Leahy is expected to continue to work to secure passage of the Survivors Equality Act in the next Congress.

Leahy chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, which held a hearing in June to examine concerns related to the April 20 explosion on the oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, and the environmental and economic disaster that followed.  A primary focus of the hearing was the inequity suffered by the families of those who die on the high seas and the question of corporate responsibility for the deaths of the eleven hard working men killed on the oil rig. 

The text of the proposed Rockefeller-Leahy amendment is available online.

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Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),

Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,

Unanimous Consent Request On S.3463, The Survivor’s Equality Act

Senate Floor

December 9, 2010

As Prepared

Six months ago, I introduced the Survivors’ Equality Act, S.3463, with Senator Durbin and Senator Whitehouse, to help the families of those who die on the high seas.  That same day,

June 8, the Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the liability caps that harm victims’ families and we heard testimony from Chris Jones, the brother of Gordon Jones, one of those who died aboard the Deepwater Horizon.  Some weeks later, the Commerce Committee also held a hearing into the matter. 

After months and months of work, I hope the Senate will finally do justice to the families of the men who died when the Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico.  That is what I have been trying to do since the catastrophic event.  After much negotiation and whittling back, the proposal has been narrowed so that it will only help the families of the 11 hard-working men who died when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded last April. 

I come to the floor today to seek the Senate’s consent to pass this legislation without further delay.  Let us act for the widows and the children of these men before we head home to be with our own families for the holiday season.   

This legislation is designed to provide a more equitable remedy under the Death on the High Seas Act and the Jones Act for the survivors of those killed on the Deepwater Horizon.  As the law is now, these families will be given far less protection simply because their loved ones happened to die on the open sea rather than at a well on land.  This is not fair.  It is an anachronism from of an earlier era.  These laws should be modernized for these families without further delay.  I would like the modernization to be broader, to cover victims on cruise ships for instance, but others have objected to that.  So I come to the Senate today to ask us to do something for the 11 families that suffered grievous loss last April. 

I am also concerned about timeliness. These victims’ families’ claims have been unnecessarily delayed because they are thoughtlessly lumped in with thousands of other claims for economic damage.  Our legislative proposal, which I have worked on with Senator Rockefeller, would ensure fairness and timeliness for these families.  There is strong bipartisan support for this legislation. Senators on both sides of the aisle have heard from these families and understand the inequities they face. 

This proposal has been circulating through the Senate for the more than a week.  This important measure should not fall victim to secret holds. 

This legislation applies only to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which led to the largest oil spill in our Nation's history.  Time is running out for these 11 families to know that they will be treated fairly and not be forced to wait years for their losses to be addressed.  They need our help now. We should all be able to agree that the limited fix I seek to pass today is the least we can do.  The months of delay should come to an end.  Accordingly, at this time I propound the following unanimous consent request:

I ask unanimous consent, that the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation be discharged from further consideration of the Survivors Equality Act, S.3463, that the Senate proceed to its immediate consideration, that the Rockefeller-Leahy amendment that is at the desk be adopted and that the bill as amended then be read a third time and passed, that the motion to reconsider be laid upon the table, and that all statements in relation to the bill be printed in the Record.

Senator DeMint objected to the request.

There is no justification for the failure to act on this deeply personal and tragic issue.  It has been pending for months.  The hotline has been running on both sides of the aisle for a more than a week.  There has been ample time for members to have read the five page proposal. 

I will never forget the testimony of Chris Jones before the Senate Judiciary Committee alongside his father and meeting his brother's widow Michelle Jones.  Michelle has lost the love of her life and her two young sons have lost their father.  This is not about politics.  This should not be partisan.  This is about justice for these kids who are facing a Christmas without their fathers and closure for the widows who are bravely fighting for their families. 

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