The first blog I wrote when I started Cruise Law News three years ago was about the Death On The High Seas Act ("DOHSA"). It was called "Death On The High Seas Act - Screwing American Passengers for 89 Years."
Under this archaic law, families who have lost a loved one on the high seas due to the negligence of the shipping company are entitled to recover only the lost wages and burial expenses of the decedent. In cases where the dead passenger is a child or a retired grandfather or grandmother, and hence no wages to be recovered, the recovery is limited to funeral expenses. There is no entitlement to the decedent's pre-death pain and suffering or the sadness, bereavement and mental anguish of the surviving family members.
The current status of DOHSA provides no financial incentive for the cruise lines to improve their operations to make cruising reasonably safe for the traveling public. I have written a number of articles about DOHSA over the years, including "If a Cruise Line Drops Your Grandmother in the Ocean, Don't Expect Any Compensation."
Cruise lines love DOHSA. Even when a cruise line is clearly negligent or even acts recklessly, there is no accountability when that negligent or reckless conduct kills a child or elderly passenger.
The cruise lines and their trade organization, Cruise Line International Association ("CLIA"), have spent millions lobbying Congress to kill efforts to amend the law to include additional remedies. Two years ago, when victim groups were getting close to amending DOSHA, CLIA and its lobbyists went into overdrive and killed the amendment.
Take a moment and read: "Cruise Industry Lobbies Congress To Kill Amendment To Death On High Seas Act."
The issue of DOHSA came back into the news last week during the Congressional cruise safety hearings.
Congresswoman Mazie Hirono of Hawaii raised the issue why families have virtually no legal remedies when they lose a family member during a cruise, but enjoy the full range of remedies if the accident occurs in an automobile or airplane. She asked the cruise line panel whether they thought this was fair.
Congresswoman Hirono asked CLIA's President and CEO Christine Duffy to answer first. Ms. Duffy was unprepared for the question and initially did not respond. Everyone in the hearing room knew that CLIA was absolutely against amending DOHSA, and that the victims groups, like the International Cruise Victims (ICV), were absolutely for the amendment.
But instead of answering honestly before the C-Span audience, Ms. Duffy hemmed and hawed and tried to deflect the question by saying "I'm not a lawyer." But right next to her was the CLIA lawyer Michael Crye and behind her was maritime lawyer Bradley Rose who is CLIA's outside legal counsel. These lawyers were key players for CLIA in submitting a position paper to Congress against revising DOHSA. Lawyers Crye and Rose just watched Ms. Duffy squirm.
Sitting close to CLIA's lawyers were the CLIA's lobbyists, including Tandy Bondi (photo above left, chatting with Ms. Duffy right before the hearing). Ms. Bondi, you will recall, was one of the main lobbyists who helped CLIA kill the DOHSA amendments just two years ago.
Ms. Duffy knew good and well that CLIA opposed changing DOHSA. But instead of choosing to be transparent, she chose the gobbledygook I'm-not-a-lawyer non-response. She had just testified at length about how international laws, flag state laws and U.S. laws supposedly regulate the cruise industry, but now she was no longer competent to give an opinion about an unfair law that screws U.S. cruise passengers.
None of the other cruise line representatives at the hearing would answer the question either.
Photos credits: Jim Walker