The US House of Representatives on Thursday passed a bill aimed at broadening corporations' legal liability for the deaths of workers at sea, in the wake of the disastrous Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hailed the measure, which expands the ability of surviving family members to seek damages, as a step "to ensure appropriate remedies when corporations negligently cause maritime disasters."

The bill, which passed by voice vote, updated a 90-year-old law that limits the potential damages that relatives can recover for the deaths of the 11 workers killed in April aboard the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling platform.

"The SPILL Act will modernize these laws to ensure that BP and other responsible parties are held fully accountable for their actions and to ensure that families of those killed or injured in the BP oil spill and other such tragedies are justly compensated for their losses," said Pelosi.

The legislation, which must still win Senate approval, would allow relatives to seek non-monetary damages for harms like pain and suffering after an incident caused by a wrongful act, or neglect.

It would repeal an 1851 law that limits the liability of vessel owners to the value of the vessel and its cargo, and give relatives more power to bring lawsuits against vessel operators.