U.S. Senator Introduces Bill on Cruise Ship Deaths

Senator Deb Fischer
Senator Deb Fischer

Published Apr 10, 2019 7:43 PM by The Maritime Executive

U.S. Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) has introduced a bill she says will ensure greater accountability for cruise lines when passengers die.

The bill is named for Larry and Christy Hammer of Omaha who lost their lives in a fire in their cabin onboard a Peruvian river cruise on April 10, 2016.

The Peruvian Navy’s report following the Hammers’ passing found numerous safety violations and negligence on the part of the cruise company. For example, the Hammers’ cabin did not contain a working fire alarm and the power strip that was provided by the ship caused the fire. Over 20 minutes had passed before the crew, without adequate emergency training or fire equipment, entered the Hammers’ cabin.

A 99-year-old law, known as the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA), was originally written to provide for the widows and dependents of seamen who died while working on ships in foreign waters. This gave dependents the opportunity to seek financial assistance for medical bills or lost wages.

The act was amended in 2000 to allow more adequate compensation for victims of major airline accidents, but cruise ship provisions have remained in the pre-World War II era.

As retirees, the Hammers did not have financial dependents or wages, so DOHSA has restricted the family from pursuing the accountability that would likely be available for wrongful deaths occurring on dry land, says Fisher.

Hammers’ Law will align the cruise ship industry with the aviation industry under DOHSA and will hold the responsible cruise line accountable by allowing for compensation that more fully reflects the company’s negligence, she says. “The cruise industry uses DOHSA to avoid financial accountability for the wrongful deaths of passengers who do not have dependents or income. These passengers – including children, students and retirees, account for a significant portion of the 12 million Americans who cruise each year.”