The US House of Representatives on Thursday approved a bill that would increase compensation for injured workers and victims’ families that have filed claims against BP as a result of the recent Deepwater Horizon oil spill [JURIST news archive] in the Gulf of Mexico. The bill marks the first piece of legislation passed by the House in response to the oil spill. The Securing Protections for the Injured from Limitations on Liability (SPILL) Act would change several laws applying to legal liability on the high seas. The jurisdiction of the 1920 Death on the High Seas Act, which allows families of decedents to bring a civil action in federal court, would be extended from three to 12 miles from the US coastline. The amendment would also allow the families of workers who died in the BP oil rig explosion to file a claim for both compensatory and punitive damages, including pain and suffering and loss of companionship. SPILL also amends the 1920 Jones Act to allow recovery for loss of care, comfort and companionship by a individual injured in the course of employment at sea. Representative John Conyers (D-MI) sponsored the bill, calling the previous legislation “ancient” and “outdated.” Some Republicans argued that the bill was too broad because it covers all companies operating on the high seas but did not act to block its passage. Representatives from both parties did agree on at least one issue—that companies directly responsible for the Gulf oil spill should not be allowed to limit damages under outdated laws. The House passed the bill on a voice vote, and was therefore not recorded. The bill will now go before the US Senate.
Calls for criminal and civil actions have been mounting against BP as evidence of the oil company’s lack of proper compliance with regulations has come out. Two lawsuits were recently filed against BP alleging violations of the Rackteer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO). The first lawsuit, a class action filed on behalf of US residents affected by the oil spill, was filed last week and alleges that BP engaged in a scheme to secure profits by deceiving the public. The second suit, filed Monday, alleges that BP has been involved in racketeering and corruption related to the BP claims payment process. Earlier this month, US Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is reviewing whether any criminal or civil laws were violated by BP resulting in the oil spill. Holder cited several statutes being examined by government lawyers including the Clean Water Act and the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. Last month, DC-based consumer advocacy organization Food and Water Watch (FWW) filed suit in a US district court against the US Department of Interior (DOI) and the Minerals Management Service (MMS) for an injunction to halt drilling at the BP Atlantis Facility, another BP Gulf of Mexico site.