Catastrophic Death on the High Seas Suffered by Seamen and Non-Seamen
The sea has attracted people for work, play and transportation from the earliest of times. Seamen, commercial fishermen and other maritime workers, such as off shore oil workers, spend much of their lives at sea earning a living and supporting their families.
Cruising on passenger ships is a popular vacation activity for people of all ages. Recreational boaters love the freedom of setting their own course, and the smell of salt air. Ships operating as ferries, service boats and supply boats provide a vital transportation function in many parts of the world.
But there are dangers at sea that the most careful and experienced seamen, travelers, or boaters can’t always avoid. When these dangers result in catastrophic death, the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) is activated.
People die at sea from many causes:
- Vessels listing, capsizing or sinking
- Parting of mooring or tow lines
- Fires and explosions aboard ships
- Failure to provide prompt emergency medical attention
- Falling overboard
- Cargo handling accidents
- Crane and winch accidents
- Dangerous or defective equipment
- Collisions with objects or vessels
The remedies that are available for death at sea depend, in part, on whether the person killed was a seaman.
The Jones Act and the Death on the High Seas Act both apply to seamen. Both acts provide the family of seamen with a right to sue for damages for wrongful death.
For seamen, these federal statutes preempt state wrongful death laws, so the families of seamen are allowed to recover only for their pecuniary loss.
Recovery is allowed for the monetary value of loss of nurture to children and loss of services provided by the decedent.
Families of cruise line passengers and other non-seamen, where death was caused by an incident at sea, may be relegated to the limited remedy available to dependent survivors under the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA).
They may also be able to sue for wrongful death or even punitive damages under state or other federal maritime laws.
When a death is caused by a negligent act or omission which occurs on the “High Seas,” three nautical miles from the shore of any state or the District of Columbia, or territories or dependencies of the United States, DOHSA will ordinarily apply.
Under DOHSA, the personal representative of the decedent may file a lawsuit for damages in state or federal court for the exclusive benefit of the decedent’s spouse, parent, child, or dependent relative.
Damages under DOHSA are limited to the pecuniary loss only of the eligible survivors. No recovery is allowed for loss of society, love and affection, companionship, or for mental anguish. Recovery is allowed for the monetary value of loss of nurture to children and loss of services provided by the decedent.
Where the negligent act or omission causing death occurs in the territorial waters of any state, maritime law allows the application of state wrongful death laws to supplement the remedies available under DOHSA.
Many state wrongful death statutes allow a monetary recovery for loss of society and other non-pecuniary damages precluded by the Death on the High Seas Act.
Statute of Limitations for Seaman’s Injury and Death Claims
Whether filed in state or federal court, the statute of limitations for maritime injury and death claims under the Death on the High Seas Act is three years from the date of the injury or death.
If the United States is a party defendant, the statute of limitations is two years from the injury or death.
In cases where the United States is a party, and the seaman was employed by the Maritime Administration (MARAD), the Clarification Act requires the filing of an administrative claim at least 60 days prior to the expiration of the two year statute of limitations.
Call a Death on the High Seas Act Attorney Today
Our DOHSA attorneys are available for a no cost, no obligation consultation 24/7. To arrange a consultation, please call us today toll-free at 1-888-440-5829. You can also complete our free and confidential case review form located on this page, and we will follow up with you directly.