U.S. Senator Martha McSally (R-AZ) on Tuesday, June 30 introduced legislation to guarantee that survivors of American service members killed at sea receive fair treatment under the law.
“Our men and women in uniform who put their lives on the line to defend our great nation should have the comfort of knowing that their loved ones will be taken care of should a fatal tragedy occur,” Ms. McSally stated in a release. “My bill provides long overdue recourse to our troops at sea by empowering their family members to recover damages for the pain and suffering experienced after a loved one is killed in to a non-combat incident. My bill ensures that the families of our naval service members are no longer treated differently than the families of those killed in commercial aviation accidents or on land.”
On Aug. 21, 2017, the USS John McCain was crashed into by a commercial tanker ship registered in Liberia called the MC ALNIC. Officials said 10 Navy sailors died in the crash. Less than 6 months after the deaths, the owners of the MC ALNIC filed a lawsuit against the Navy sailors’ families requiring them to hire attorneys, engage in litigation, and make any claims they have against the owners of the MC ALNIC.
“Almost three years ago, we lost our loved ones serving aboard the USS John S. McCain when it collided with a foreign-flagged cargo ship off the coast of Singapore,” per a joint statement from family members of sailors lost on the USS John McCain. “We were subsequently blindsided by a lawsuit filed against us by the foreign company that owned the ship, and had to learn the hard way about the outdated laws that such shipowners use to avoid responsibility for their actions. We commend Senator McSally for introducing this narrow, common-sense legislation that gives families of Navy Sailors killed at sea, such as ours, fair treatment under the law.”
The bill, called Fairness for Families of Fallen Sailors Act, will amend the Death on the High Seas Act to allow the survivors of service members killed at sea to bring civil action against the person or vessel responsible.
In the case of an accident occurring on the high seas beyond 12 nautical miles from the shore of the U.S., the deceased service member’s spouse, parent, child, dependent relative, or estate can seek compensation pecuniary — discernible, quantifiable monetary amounts, e.g. medical bills, property damage and loss of wages — and nonpecuniary damages.
The bill establishes that the maritime law of the U.S. shall apply, authorizes a jury trial, and retroactively authorizes the cause of action for death’s occurring after Jan. 1, 2017.