Yesterday, Senator Deb Fisher (R-Neb.) introduced legislation to amend the Death on the High Seas Act (“DOHSA”) to provide a basis for compensation for the pain, suffering and other emotional losses suffered by the surviving family members of loved ones killed at sea.
“Hammer’s Law” is a bill named for Larry and Christy Hammer of Omaha, Nebraska who tragically lost their lives in a fire in their cabin onboard a Peruvian river cruise on April 10, 2016. As matters now stand, when an adult child loses a parent on the high seas (defined as outside of U.S. state territorial waters, including the rivers and waters of foreign countries), the law permits, at best, the recovery of only “pecuniary” (financial) losses, such as lost wages (assuming the person is employed). If the person is a retiree, or a child, the only damages permitted are the expenses of burying their loved one. Emotional damages such as grief, bereavement, pain, mental anguish, sadness and suffering are prohibited.
This means that currently when a cruise line’s negligence kills a retired passenger or a child, the cruise line can evade financial accountability without addressing the underlying safety issues. Cruise lines have lobbied heavily over the years to keep the ancient maritime law, passed in 1920, on the books. DOSHA punishes families when they lose a parent, or child, on the high seas, notwithstanding the negligence of a cruise line.
Today, is the three year anniversary of the Hammer’s deaths, which were caused by gross negligence during a cruise sold by Alabama-based International Expeditions. Peruvian authorities found that the fire which killed the Hammers while they slept in their cabin on La Estrella Amazonica, a river cruise boat on the Peruvian Amazon. The fire was reportedly caused by a defective power cord provided by the ship, the absence of working fire alarms and the poor training of the crew who failed to respond for other 20 minutes to the fire. It’s a sad story, involving entirely preventable deaths, which we wrote about earlier – Deadly Amazon River Fire Update: International Expeditions’ La Estrella Amazonica (photos and video).
Senator Fischer said upon introduction of the propose legislation:
“The tragic passing of Larry and Christy Hammer is something no family should have to endure. My office has been working with their daughters, Jill and Kelly, coordinating with the State Department to get answers from the Peruvian government and hold culpable parties responsible. Hammers’ Law would change existing law to help ensure cruise lines are held accountable after such a devastating loss.”
You can read Senator Fischer’s press release here.
The cruise industry, which has lobbied heavily against efforts to reform the antiquated maritime statute over the years, is expected to resist the proposed legislation.
Have a thought? Please leave a comment below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.
Photo credit: Larry and Christy Hammer – Jill & Kelly Hammer via Remember the Hammers
Interested in this issue? Consider reading: