The Death on the High Seas Act of 1920 is an archaic law that was passed in the post-Titanic era. It certainly never anticipated the possibility of airliners crashing into the sea or giant oceangoing oil platforms, but those conveyances are covered under the current law, and this is what they say about compensation to the victims of negligence or even criminal behavior on the high seas: If someone is killed and does not leave a wife or children, the sum total of the compensation his family may recover from BP and their ilk is the cost of his funeral.
For Michelle and her two little boys, it is a bit more generous. She may recover Gordon's future wages, adjusted downward against future inflation, minus anticipated income taxes, less whatever Gordon would have spent on himself. BP and Transocean lawyers and bean-counters may be able to write a check for this whittled-down amount and, you may be sure, not one penny more -- and walk away.
But there is a movement afoot to change this 90-year-old law and make it comparable to laws that would apply if this tragedy had happened on land. The changes would allow for the recovery of non-pecuniary damages such as the loss of care, comfort, and consortium.