On April 20, 2010, about 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico, a semi–submersible oilrig called the Deepwater Horizon exploded killing 11 workers. The rig was owned by Transocean but was leased and operated by BP. The explosion, which was caused by a blowout, and subsequent continual release of oil from the well has become one of the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. About two million gallons of oil a day are escaping from the well and entering the gulf.
The explosion on the Deepwater Horizon was so powerful that two days after the initial explosion, the oilrig capsized and sank, leaving a gushing well on the gulf's sea floor. The spill will have long lasting effects on the oil industry, the gulf's economy, and the gulf's natural environment. Not to be forgotten in the calamity of this disaster is the eleven workers from BP who lost their lives in the initial explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oilrig. Their bodies were never recovered.
Unfortunately, the families of the 11 workers killed may encounter difficulty receiving just compensation for liability in the death of their family member. There has already been dispute over who is responsible for the explosion between BP, Transocean, and Halliburton, who was also involved in the operation.
It can also be murky which workers compensation laws are applicable to accidents on semi–submersible oilrigs. The Jones Act, the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act ( LHWCA ), and the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) all could be applicable. These laws can be antiquated severely limiting the financial liability for the responsible parties.
Under DOHSA, which is the most likely law to be applied, oilrig owners are not liable for non–pecuniary damages, which are general damages that attempt to compensate family members for the loss of the victim. The families of the victims are able to recoup future lost wages but there is a cap on the amount of payment.
For example, if a worker was killed at age 25 in the explosion, their family may not even receive one million dollars for their future lost wages. If the worker was making $60,000 per year and had forty years of typical ability to work left, one million dollars would be grossly inadequate.
There is a chance that congressional action could retroactively modify DOHSA to allow the families to receive more just compensation. Hopefully the families of the deceased can receive just compensation for the loss of their loved ones.