BP has released its internal investigation report on the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Predictably, the report spreads the responsibility for various failures among the companies in the rig venture, without citing any particular reason which might leave BP, or any other company involved, open to civil liability. Note this paragraph in the Executive Summary:
“The team did not identify any single action or inaction that caused this accident. Rather, a complex and interlinked series of mechanical failures, human judgments, engineering design, operational implementation and team interfaces came together to allow the initiation and escalation of the accident. Multiple companies, work teams and circumstances were involved over time.”
In other words, it just happened – “stuff happens.” But this is why the British peasants at Runnymede forced King John to sign the Magna Carta in 1215 and empower their right to bring their civil wrongs before a jury of their peers. This is why our Founding Fathers created the American justice system in Article III of the Constitution, and why they empowered Americans with the 7th Amendment, based on the Magna Carta and centuries of British experience, to bring their civil wrongs before a jury of their peers. Juries are the triers of facts and can assign the legal liability for the accident and the proper compensation for the injured. The Founding Fathers trusted juries, and almost 800 years of experience shows that it’s still the best system for the exercise of civil justice.
Unfortunately, because of special federal laws enacted decades ago to help shipping interests (the Death on the High Seas Act, Jones Act and the Limitation of Liability Act), victims of the Deepwater Horizon disaster have seen their 7th Amendment rights unfairly abridged. The U.S. House passed a great bill by voice vote of Republicans and Democrats on July 1 (basically a unanimous vote), only to see the Senate version bogged down by opposition from commercial fishing interests and irrelevant battling over energy policy.
Sen. Rockefeller has introduced S. 3755, a new version of the House-passed bill, in which he tries to compromise with the commercial fishing interests to simply enable the Deepwater Horizon victims to have their day in court, unhindered by outdated and unfair limits. It would end the unfair discrimination against sea-based oil rig accident victims; land-based victims suffer from no such federally imposed limit on their 7th Amendment rights. This version deserves debate and a final vote by the Senate, after which it could be quickly adopted by the House to assist the families.