When a maritime worker dies as a result of an accident on the high seas, their family may be able to file a claim under the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA). This federal law allows certain survivors to seek damages for wrongful death, even if the accident took place outside of U.S. territorial waters. To qualify for compensation, you must meet certain criteria outlined in DOHSA. In this post, we’ll explore who can file a claim and what they can expect if they are successful.
What Is the Death on the High Seas Act?
The Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) provides recovery for the death of any person caused by a wrongful act or negligence occurring on the high seas beyond 3 miles from the shore of any state. It was passed by Congress in 1920 as a way for families to receive damages for seamen killed in international waters.
What Types of Accidents Are Covered by DOHSA Claims?
The Death on the High Seas Act may apply to any maritime accident that results in wrongful death, such as vessel sinking, cruise-ship accidents and even airline disasters at sea. Claims may be based on unseaworthiness, as vessel owners have a duty to provide a “seaworthy” vessel, one that is reasonably fit for its intended use. This duty extends to all parts of the vessel, including its crew; thus, unfit crew members constitute an unseaworthy condition and can be the basis of a claim.
Other claims may be based on negligence and/or improper judgment by the vessel owner, including the failure to follow safety procedures or the failure to provide the appropriate medical care. The key point for any claim made under DOHSA is that the death was due to negligence by the vessel owner, employer, or a crew member.
Who Is Eligible to File a Claim Under the Death on the High Seas Act?
When it was initially enacted, the Death on the High Seas Act limited damages to spouses, children and dependent family members of the deceased seaman. However, the act has been amended over the years. Today, the family members who may be eligible to file a DOHSA claim are:
- Dependent family members
What Damages Can Be Recovered Under DOHSA?
The damages that may be recovered under DOHSA are limited to pecuniary damages. This means that you can only recover damages that have a monetary value, such as:
- Loss of financial support
- Loss of nurture and guidance (i.e. the financial equivalent to the guidance and support a child would have received from a parent)
- Loss of inheritance
- The value of household services (i.e. cooking, cleaning, home maintenance)
- Funeral expenses
The act does not allow for the collection of damages associated with loved ones’ grief, mental anguish, or the loss of consortium (i.e. love and affection).
Frequently Asked Questions About Claims Under the Death on the High Seas Act
Does the Death on the High Seas Act only apply to maritime workers who qualify as Jones Act seaman?
No. The Death on the High Seas Act applies to any maritime worker who dies as a result of an accident on the high seas, regardless of whether they qualify as a Jones Act seaman.
Is there a statute of limitations for filing a claim Under DOHSA?
Yes. The general rule is that a DOHSA claim must be filed within 3 years of the date of death, but there are some exceptions to this rule. For example, if the personal representative of the estate did not learn of the death until after the 3-year period had expired, then the claim may still be valid.
It is important to speak with an experienced maritime attorney as soon as possible after the death of a loved one to ensure that your claim is filed within the appropriate time period.
Does the Death on the High Seas Act apply if the death occurred on a foreign vessel?
The Death on the High Seas Act applies to any death that occurs on the high seas beyond 3 miles from the shore of any state, regardless of the nationality of the vessel. Thus, if a person dies while on a foreign vessel that is more than 3 miles from shore, their family may still be able to file a DOHSA claim.
Speak to a Maritime Attorney Today
If you have lost a loved one while working at sea, you may be entitled to compensation. For more details and for a free legal consultation, please contact the experienced Louisiana offshore injury attorneys at Lambert Zainey Smith & Soso, PLC. Lambert Zainey Smith & Sos, PLC is committed to fighting for the rights of grieving families in the wake of these tragic offshore accidents.