Maritime employers are required by law to maintain a safe working environment for their employees. When they fail to do so, serious accidents can occur. Workers can become injured or even killed.
When a maritime worker dies at sea due to the negligence of someone else, the Death on the High Seas Act, or DOHSA, permits their surviving family members to seek compensation for the economic losses caused by their loved one’s wrongful death. This includes funeral expenses, loss of financial support, the deceased’s medical bills, and a child’s loss of parental guidance and nurture.
What Is the Death on the High Seas Act?
Enacted in 1920, the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) allows a decedent’s spouse, parent, child, or dependent relative to bring a civil action against the party responsible for the death of an individual through a wrongful act, neglect, or default occurring on the high seas at least 3 nautical miles (one nautical league) off the shores of the United States. DOHSA also applies to victims of commercial aircraft accidents that occur in the international waters 12 miles beyond the shores of the U.S.
What Remedies Does DOHSA Provide?
Like the Jones Act, DOHSA provides legal remedies for damages caused by the wrongful death of an individual on the high seas. Both laws have a three-year statute of limitations. However, there are many differences between the two:
Inland Waterways Not Covered
DOHSA only covers individuals who were killed at least three nautical miles off the coast of the United States (twelve miles if they were killed in a commercial aircraft accident). DOHSA does not cover deaths that occur on the Great Lakes or waters within the territorial limits of a state.
Seaman Status Not Required
If your loved one was a “seaman,” you have a wrongful death remedy under the Jones Act. Otherwise, you may be entitled to remedies under DOHSA. There are no employment qualifications to file a DOHSA claim. DOHSA protections extend to two groups of people:
- Individuals killed in an accident aboard a vessel or offshore facility beyond the three-mile territorial limit; and
- Individuals killed in a commercial airliner accident beyond the 12-mile international waters limit.
The families of both maritime or aircraft workers and passengers qualify for DOHSA remedies.
Damages for Financial Losses Only
DOHSA only provides compensation for the immediate financial damages related to the loss of a loved one. However, “financial damages” does include loss of parental guidance and nurture. Other types of damages, such as pain and suffering or loss of companionship, are not available under DOHSA (Depending on the decedent’s job, survivors may qualify for these kinds of damages under other maritime laws such as the Jones Act).
Comparative Liability Applies
Comparative liability applies in DOHSA cases. That means the court may reduce the amount of compensation a survivor is able to collect based on the degree of negligence the decedent shared for the accident that resulted in their death.
Do You Have A DOHSA Claim?
It can be devastating to lose a loved one in a maritime accident, especially when that accident could have been avoided. To make things worse, surviving family members can find themselves facing an unexpected loss of income and overwhelming financial difficulties. The DOHSA, the Jones Act, and other maritime laws give you the right to seek compensation for the damages stemming from the loss of a loved one.
However, pursuing a DOHSA or other maritime claim can be challenging, especially if you aren’t familiar with maritime or admiralty law. In some instances, multiple laws may apply in your situation. The assistance and representation of an experienced maritime law attorney can ensure you get the total compensation to which you are entitled.
The New Orleans maritime accident attorneys at Lewis, Kullman, Sterbcow & Abramson, LLC are here to protect your rights during this time of grief.
Contact Lewis, Kullman, Sterbcow & Abramson, LLC
Lewis, Kullman, Sterbcow & Abramson, LLC has a well-earned reputation for being one of the finest maritime and admiralty law litigation firms in the country. We have extensive experience in all areas of maritime law, including DOHSA. Our team of maritime law attorneys has played a critical role in many of the essential maritime cases in the last 40 years. A number of our cases have made or changed maritime law in favor of the injured due to our aggressive and innovative lawyering.
You can contact the law offices of Lewis, Kullman, Sterbcow & Abramson, LLC through our website, or call us at (800) 960-1526 to schedule a free initial consultation with a highly experienced DOHSA attorney. We are headquartered in New Orleans, Louisiana, but serve clients all over the Gulf Coast and across the United States.