TODAY   |  August 02, 2010

Widows of rig victims fight for justice

The widows of rig workers who died in the Deep Water Horizon explosion are pleading with Congress to overturn an old maritime law that entitles families to fewer benefits than if the deaths occurred on land. NBC’s Lisa Myers reports.

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ANN CURRY, co-host: Now to more on that disaster in the gulf. Two women who lost their husbands in the Deepwater Horizon explosion that triggered the oil spill disaster are speaking out this morning, and they say they are frustrated in dealing with Congress , trying to get simple justice for their loved ones. We've got NBC 's senior investigative correspondent Lisa Myers now joining us with an exclusive report. Lisa , good morning.

LISA MYERS reporting: Good morning, Ann. Soon after the horrible shock of losing their husbands, the widows learned that an archaic law would severely limit what BP and other companies had to pay the families. They've been fighting to change that law, but to their great frustration are now caught up in the political swamp of Washington .

Unidentified Woman: Roy was a fine son.

MYERS: Five times grief-stricken families of those killed on the Deepwater Horizon have come to Washington to lobby for what they call "simple justice."

Ms. SHELLEY ANDERSON: And we just want to be treated fairly.

Ms. COURTNEY KEMP: We are doing as best we can...

MYERS: Courtney Kemp , who lost her husband, Wyatt , has two young daughters.

Ms. KEMP: We talk about daddy every day, and at night we'll pick out a star for him.

MYERS: Because the workers died on the water, an off-shore oil rig, a 90-year-old maritime law says families are entitled only to lost future wages, minus taxes and minus the worker's personal expenses. That's far, far less than families could recover in a comparable accident on land. Shelley Anderson lost her husband, Jason .

Ms. ANDERSON: I don't think that it's fair. It's saying that Jason is not worth what somebody else would be worth if they had died in the air or if they had died on land.

MYERS: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi agreed and promised the families to change the law retroactively. The House quickly passed a bill to do that.

Unidentified Woman: The bill is passed.

MYERS: But in the Senate , their bill has gotten caught up in a long-standing battle between trial lawyers and maritime interests and then was put in a controversial energy package over which there is much partisan wrangling.

Mr. ERNEST CANNON (Attorney): This is absolutely torturing them to have to sit and wait for partisan politics and special interests so that their bill can be addressed.

Ms. KEMP: We don't care if you're a Democrat, we don't care if you're a Republican, we need you to do the right thing and to help us get justice for our husbands.

MYERS: Anderson calls the delay in Congress heart-crushing.

Ms. ANDERSON: I celebrated my eighth anniversary on Tuesday. That's what I wanted for my anniversary. I wanted it to all be done and have it finished and done with.

MYERS: Some people, Shelley , will look at this and say this is all about money.

Ms. ANDERSON: I want people to be responsible. It is so not about the money. There is no amount of money that can bring my husband back, no amount of money that I wouldn't give back in a second to have him back here with us.

MYERS: A spokesman for Republicans says the man running the Senate , Majority Leader Harry Reid , won't allow a clean vote on the bill for the victims. A Reid spokesman says the energy package offers the best chance to get victims what they deserve quickly, and if that fails, Ann , he'll pursue other strategies.

CURRY: All right, Lisa Myers , this morning. Lisa , thanks for your reporting. It is now 7:20. Once again, here's Matt.