Death on the High Seas Act and What it Means to YouIn the past, wrongful death on the water was compensated under the maritime law that applied to the deceased. Sailors were covered under the Jones Act, dockworkers were covered by Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act (LHWCA), and so forth. Today, the provisions of the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) apply to maritime workers who are killed while on the job and out to sea.

Provisions of the Death on the High Seas Act

Families of maritime employees, cruise ship workers, and people traveling on commercial airlines can bring a DOHSA claim if death occurred in international waters. Compensation in these cases varies, but will usually cover funeral expenses, lost income and future financial support, survivors’ counseling expenses, and other financial costs paid by the family related to the death. Victims whose relative was killed on a commercial airliner may recover non-pecuniary damages for the loss of care, comfort, and companionship of the family member. However, there are no damages for pre-death pain and suffering of the victim allowed under the DOHSA.

Family members may be able to get compensation under the DOHSA if they:

  • Qualify for coverage. There are two kinds of people covered under DOHSA: those traveling on a vessel and those on an aircraft. Workers or passengers on a vessel must have died due to an accident three miles or more from the U.S. shoreline. Workers or passengers killed on commercial airliners must have suffered an accident 12 nautical miles or more from the U.S. shoreline.
  • Can prove negligence. The DOHSA resembles the Jones Act in that families must be able to prove negligence or that a faulty craft was to blame for the death. For example, the family of a crew member may claim that the vessel’s unseaworthiness led to capsizing, or the intoxication of a pilot was to blame for an airline crash at sea. Defective equipment, failure to follow safety procedures, mechanical errors, and failure to train employees are all common forms of negligence.
  • Are eligible beneficiaries. Any successful lawsuit filed under the DOHSA will only allow payment for specific family members of the deceased. Under the law, only the spouses, children, parents, and dependent family members are legally eligible for damages in DOHSA lawsuits. Stepchildren, siblings, and other relatives are barred from bringing an action.
  • Meet the filing deadline. Like the majority of maritime injury cases, any action for compensation under the DOHSA must be brought within a three-year statute of limitations. If eligible family members do not file a lawsuit within three years from the date of the accident, they may be permanently barred from recovery.

How Attorneys Can Help with a Death on the High Seas Act Lawsuit

In many cases, family members left behind after a maritime worker’s death relied heavily on their relative’s income. Although the DOHSA allows family survivors to recover damages for past and future wages, calculations for this amount may vary. An attorney can examine how much your family has been impacted by lost income, benefits, health care, bonuses, retirement, savings, interest, and other negative financial consequences.

A maritime injury lawyer can also investigate who was primarily at fault for the accident, as well as whether the relative’s negligence will be called into question. Under DOHSA regulations, families may still collect compensation for the death if their family member’s actions were partially to blame for his or her death. However, contributory negligence laws may be applied to the damages, reducing the final amount of compensation the family receives.

If someone you love suffered a tragic accident at sea, you have our deepest sympathies. While no amount of money can bring your family member back to you, there are legal remedies that allow you to hold the negligent person accountable for your loss. Our Jones Act and maritime injury lawyers can fight on your behalf to get you the compensation you are owed under the law. Contact us online or call Hofmann & Schweitzer directly at 800.362.9329 to schedule your free consultation today. 


Paul T. Hofmann
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Focused on personal injury, with an emphasis on maritime, railroad and construction worker tort claims.