Thursday, July 8, 2010

House Passes SPILL Act

On July 1, the House passed HR 5503, the Securing Protections for the Injured from Limitations on Liability Act (SPILL Act), which was introduced by Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers.  If passed by the Senate, the bill would allow for non-economic damages for maritime victims' families.  Here's an excerpt from the press release:

 "I want to say how offensive it is when the law recognizes only pecuniary loss in cases like these eleven deaths," said Keith Jones, father of spill victim Gordon Jones. "Please believe me; no amount of money can ever compensate us for Gordon’s death. We know that. But this is the only means available to begin to make things right."

The SPILL Act addresses out-of-date legislation from the mid 1800s to the early 1900s: Death on High Seas Act (1920), Jones Act (1920), and the Limitation on Liability Act (1851).

  • It amends the Death on the High Seas Act and Jones Act to permit non-pecuniary damages.
  • It repeals the outdated Limitation on Liability Act.
  • It prevents parties responsible for oil spills from using the bankruptcy courts as a subterfuge to leave victims without adequate legal recourse.
  • It provides that these changes will apply to all cases on and after April 20th, consistent with previous liability law changes enacted by Congress.

Here's a link to the Bill's text.  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has opposed the bill, and claimed that it "threatens to negate one of the core purposes of CAFA by creating a loophole that would encourage enterprising attorneys to avoid federal jurisdiction by finding attorneys general to join their class action lawsuits."  Meanwhile, the Senate is considering the Big Oil Bailout Prevention Act, which would remove the $75 million cap on economic liability.


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