The Potential Application of 18 U.S.C. § 1115 to Offshore Drilling Disasters: A Requiem for the Seaman’s Manslaughter Act?

Allison Fish | Comment

Section 1115 of United States Code Title 18, colloquially referred to as the Seaman’s Manslaughter Act, provides, “Every captain, engineer, pilot, or other person employed on any steamboat or vessel, by whose misconduct, negligence, or inattention to his duties on such vessel the life of any person is destroyed . . . shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.” Although a seemingly straightforward statute, significant changes in the maritime industry since its inception have rendered modern application of the statute a considerably difficult task.

This Comment examines the potential application of the Seaman’s Manslaughter Act to individuals whose negligent conduct leads to fatalities in the context of offshore drilling. It will first discuss the development of the statute since its enactment over 175 years ago. It will then survey how courts have interpreted the various elements of the statute since its enactment. The second part of this Comment takes a closer look at United States v. Kaluza, a recent decision of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. In Kaluza, the court held that the Seaman’s Manslaughter Act was not applicable to well site leaders whose conduct may have contributed to the deaths of eleven men aboard the DEEPWATER HORIZON. Lastly, this Comment will discuss whether the Seaman’s Manslaughter Act should be applied in the offshore oil and gas context and the future of the statute in light of the court’s decision in Kaluza.