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Bacon, Matsui, Scanlon, Van Drew Introduce Bipartisan Bill Holding Cruise Ship Operators Accountable for Wrongful Passenger Deaths

Bacon, Matsui, Scanlon, Van Drew Introduce Bipartisan Bill Holding Cruise Ship Operators Accountable for Wrongful Passenger Deaths

WASHINGTON– Reps. Don Bacon (R-NE-02), Doris Matsui (D-CA-07), Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA-05), and Jeff Van Drew (R-NJ-02) introduced H.R. 3788, Hammers’ Law, last week. The legislation would amend the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) to hold cruise ship operators legally and financially accountable for the wrongful deaths of passengers. 

The bill is named for Drs. Larry and Christy Hammer, 74 and 72, of Omaha, NE, who were killed when their riverboat cabin caught fire while they slept. Despite the cruise company’s negligence and numerous safety violations on the boat, DOHSA prevented the Hammers’ family members from seeking legal damages against the U.S. company that claimed they owned and operated the riverboat.

DOHSA, enacted in 1920, allowed for wrongful death action suits for workers who died in international waters to make up for the victim’s lost income for the surviving family members. The law was amended in 2000 to allow surviving family members of airline passengers who die in international waters to obtain judgments for civil damages. The amendment failed to allow for surviving family members of cruise ship passengers who die in international waters to do the same against the cruise ship operator, particularly for retirees like the Hammers. 

“Larry and Christy Hammers’ tragic deaths should not have turned into an ugly uphill legal battle for accountability,” said Bacon. “Hammers’ Law will force cruise ship operators to implement the highest level of safety standards to protect their passengers, and if they don’t, victims can finally hold operators accountable in court.” 

“When you step on a commercial airplane, the airline is legally responsible for your safety, and if the unthinkable happens, that airline can be held accountable for any wrongdoing. That is not the case for cruise ships. This law would change that, ensuring that the families of victims have the necessary legal recourse after a tragic death at sea,” said Matsui. “Cruises have long been marketed as safe, family friendly vacations, yet the unfortunate reality is that sometimes things go wrong. Hammers’ Law would make sure that families are protected, and cruise companies are held accountable. I’m proud to work with Rep. Bacon on this bipartisan effort to improve protections for cruise passengers and their families.”

“Pennsylvania families seeking accountability for the needless deaths and injuries of loved ones should not be prevented from holding corporate giants to account,” said Scanlon. “I’m proud to join Reps. Bacon, Matsui, and Van Drew in introducing Hammers' Law to hold the cruise industry to the same accountability standards as the airline industry and protect families’ rights to pursue fair compensation that fully reflects a cruise line's negligence when tragedy strikes.”

“Hammers’ Law is a critical step forward in correcting an outdated provision in our lawthat has been exploited by cruise ship operators for years,” said Van Drew.The tragic deaths of Larry and Christy Hammer underscore the urgent need to make this correction so that cruise ships operate with the highest safety standards in place, and in situations where these standards are not followed, families can hold negligent operators accountable.”

Senators Deb Fischer (R-NE) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) are leading the bill in the Senate.

“No family should have to endure something like the tragic passing of Larry and Christy Hammer. I want to thank Representatives Bacon and Matsui for introducing the House companion of Hammers’ Law to hold the cruise industry to the same standard as the airline industry. In the Senate, I’ll keep pushing to get this bill passed so families like the Hammers can pursue fairer compensation,” said Fischer.

The Hammers’ daughters, Jill Malott and Kelly Lankford, work with the International Cruise Victims Association to reform DOHSA to provide additional accountability for cruise ship operators when their negligence and safety violations kill passengers. 

"Hammers' Law will enable Americans to pursue accountability when their loved ones - regardless of income or age - are killed due to negligence on a cruise,” said Malott and Lankford.By passing this bill, Congress will give cruise passengers the same rights it gave airline passengers 23 years ago.  Holding cruise ships accountable will result in adherence to safety standards and thereby save thousands of lives. We are grateful to Representative Bacon for his commitment to protect the millions of Americans who cruise every year."

Hammers’ Law will amend DOHSA by providing authorization for civil actions in response to harm resulting from a cruise ship voyage occurring on the high seas.