Death on the High Seas Act


Enacted in 1920, and amended by Congress in 2000, the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) applies to all deaths of maritime workers occurring 3 miles or more from the shore of the United States, of any of its dependencies, territories or possessions. Currently, fatal plane crashes are also covered in the amended version of the law.

The DOHSA Act allows family members to obtain compensation for financial losses related to death from a maritime accident, and for emotional pain and suffering related to the loss of a loved one. For family members to obtain compensation for damages under the DOHSA Act, the death of the crew member or seaman must be the consequence of the negligence or reckless conduct of the owner of the boat, a fellow crew member of the boat or aircraft (if a plane crashes at sea).

How damages are estimated under the DOHSA Law

Per the terms of the DOHSA Act, damages are based on the projected earnings and economic income of the deceased, and the importance they have in the lives of their children. Spouses are entitled to receive an amount of value equal to the deceased’s estimated financial contribution, minus the expenses that would have been associated with the deceased’s maintenance costs if he or she had lived. The children of the deceased are entitled to receive an amount that attempts to represent the value of the care, guidance, and support that they would have received from the deceased if he had not died.

Although the DOHSA Act does not compensate spouses for loss of consortium, it does compensate them for the value of the contribution to the home and the support that the deceased would have provided if he or she had not died.

When an injury at sea causes death

Commonly, if an injury sustained at sea results in death, the deceased’s family or spouse cannot obtain compensation for damages under the DOHSA. However, if the deceased filed a personal injury lawsuit in federal court before his death, the next of kin can claim compensation for damages under the DOHSA:

    “If a person dies as a consequence of the said wrongful act, negligence or breach of an obligation as mentioned in section 761 of this Appendix during the pendency of a trial initiated in a US admiralty court to receive compensation For the personal injuries suffered concerning said unlawful act, negligence or breach of an obligation, the personal representative of the deceased may substitute the latter as a party and the judgment may proceed according to this chapter as a trial to receive compensation under the established in section 762 of this Appendix”.

Who can exercise the DOHSA planned actions?

The legal representative of any person (passenger or guest seafarers, passengers and crew on aircraft crashing over the high seas, and even those who died in foreign territorial waters), who died more than 3 nautical miles from the Coast, can file a claim on DOHSA on behalf of the decedent’s beneficiaries.

Who is a DOHSA beneficiary?

DOHSA allows recovery on behalf of the decedent’s beneficiaries. Recipients have been determined to include:

-Surviving spouse – A wife or husband, who was married to the deceased at the time of death as well as common-law spouses (as long as their partner meets applicable state law). Divorced spouses, however, are not considered beneficiaries.

-Children – Biological children, as well as adoptive children who have suffered economic losses due to death.

-Parents – Dependent parents.

-Siblings – Siblings who depend on the deceased person.

When should I file a DOHSA claim?

A DOHSA claim must be filed within three years of the date of death. However, if the deceased was traveling as a passenger aboard a cruise ship, the ticket agreement may reduce the period from three years to one year.

What types of damages are covered by a DOHSA claim?

Damage to DOHSA is determined based on the current or expected value of the economic benefits received from the deceased person. Under this theory, the following damages are available:

-Financial support and contribution – The financial aid that the deceased would have made to his spouse and dependents throughout his life expectancy of work, minus any amount determined for the care and maintenance of the deceased.

-Loss of Services – The monetary value of the deceased person’s services that would have been provided to beneficiaries in the home.

-Dependent children – The value of caring for, counseling, and training the children of the deceased.

-Loss of inheritance – The value of the deceased’s monetary aid over the life expectancy of the deceased person to dependents.

-Funeral Expenses.

-Pre-Death Pain and Suffering – Monitoring the awareness of pain and suffering for a negligent act of the deceased felt before his death. This damage is only recoverable if the deceased dies while pursuing a personal injury lawsuit in the federal admiralty court for the negligent acts that ultimately lead to his death.

What types of damages are not covered by DOHSA?

The measure of recovery in a DOHSA is limited to material damage and, therefore, non-monetary losses are not recoverable, namely:

-Pain, grief, and mental anguish of dependent people.

-Loss of the consortium.

Filing a lawsuit under the Death on the High Seas Act

Family members have three years to file a compensation claim under the Death at Sea Act. Considering that coworkers, crew, and supervisors may be reassigned to other positions or leave the maritime industry altogether, you must contact an experienced maritime law attorney as soon as possible if you need advice on a fatal injury sustained at sea. A maritime law attorney can not only prepare all the necessary paperwork and red tape but can also make sure that relevant testimony and evidence are collected and preserved.

We will be honored to have the opportunity to review your potential case and dispositions under the DOHSA. Call PMR Law at 832-667-7700 today to schedule a free and confidential consultation with a personal injury lawyer who will tirelessly fight for your legal rights.

Get in touch with us immediately so we can evaluate your case for free. We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can also fill out a form by clicking here.

PMR Law is considered one of the Best Law Firms of America, by Rue Ratings. Several of our attorneys have been given the honor of being named Super Lawyers by Thomson Reuters. The American Institute of Personal Injury Attorneys has named our attorneys 10 Best in Client Satisfaction. Speaking of personal injury, Attorney and Practice Magazine awarded our attorneys with Top 10 Personal Injury Attorney distinctions. The National Trial Lawyers, as well as the American Academy of Attorneys, have named two of our attorneys as Top 40 Under 40. Our attorneys have been recognized as Best Attorneys of America, by Rue Ratings. PMR Law is a proud member of the Multi-Million Dollar Advocate Forum.

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