The Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) is a federal law enacted in the United States in 1920. It provides legal remedies and compensation to the families and dependents of individuals who die due to wrongful acts or negligence occurring on the high seas (at least three nautical miles from the coast of the United States). The law applies to incidents such as maritime accidents, airplane crashes, or other incidents resulting in fatalities.
Maritime law, including the DOHSA, are complex. There are specific criteria for coverage under individual maritime laws. At Kherkher Garcia, LLP, our maritime injury attorneys help maritime workers and their families understand their rights and options for compensation. Every day, we answer questions about maritime law and how victims and their loved ones can obtain the compensation they deserve.
An Overview of the Death on the High Seas Act
Under the DOHSA, surviving family members or representatives can file a lawsuit seeking damages for the loss of financial support, loss of care, companionship, and other related losses caused by the death of a loved one. However, the DOHSA does not allow recovery for non-economic damages like pain and suffering or emotional distress. One key aspect of the DOHSA is its restrictive scope. It only applies to deaths that occur on the high seas and does not cover deaths within territorial waters or deaths resulting from activities within the jurisdiction of a specific state. For these cases, other maritime laws may apply, such as the Jones Act.
Frequently Asked Questions about the Death on the High Seas Act
Below, the attorneys at Kherkher Garcia offer an overview of the DOHSA, as well as answers to some of the most common questions that we receive from clients.
Can I File a Lawsuit if My Loved One Died in the Maritime Industry?
The specific legal options and remedies available to you after losing a loved one will depend on various factors, including the location of the incident, the applicable laws, and the circumstances surrounding the death.
DOHSA laws may apply if the death occurred beyond three nautical miles from the coast of the U.S. The DOHSA allows eligible family members to seek compensation for economic losses resulting from the death caused by a wrongful act, negligence, or unseaworthiness.
Who Can File a DOHSA Claim?
Eligible family members or representatives under the DOHSA who are eligible to file a claim seeking compensation include:
- Spouse: The spouse of the deceased can file a claim under the DOHSA.
- Children: Biological or adopted children of the deceased can file a claim. This includes both minor and adult children.
- Parents: If the deceased was financially supporting their parents, the parents may have standing to file a claim under the DOHSA.
- Personal Representative: If none of the above-mentioned family members are available or eligible to file a claim, the personal representative of the deceased’s estate can file on behalf of the estate and any eligible beneficiaries.
It is important to note that the DOHSA does not cover all family members or dependents. Siblings, grandparents, or other relatives are generally not eligible to file a claim under the DOHSA.
Do I Have a DOHSA Claim?
Determining whether you have a claim under the DOHSA requires careful evaluation of the specific circumstances surrounding the death of your loved one. It is essential to consult with a qualified maritime injury attorney to assess the details of your case accurately. Here are some factors to consider:
- Jurisdiction: The DOHSA applies to deaths that occur on the high seas, generally beyond three nautical miles from the coast of the United States. Deaths within territorial waters or other specific jurisdictions may be subject to different laws.
- Cause of Death: The death must result from a wrongful act, negligence, or unseaworthiness of a vessel. This can include maritime accidents, airplane crashes over the high seas, or other incidents that cause fatalities.
- Relationship to the Deceased: To have standing to file a claim, you must be a surviving family member or a representative of the deceased’s estate. Eligible individuals typically include spouses, children, parents, or other dependents.
- Damages: The DOHSA allows recovery for economic losses, including loss of financial support, loss of care, and loss of companionship. However, it does not provide for non-economic damages like pain and suffering.
Given the complexity of maritime law and the specific details required for a DOHSA claim, it is strongly recommended to consult with an attorney before attempting a claim.
Do I Have to Prove Negligence or Wrongdoing?
In maritime injury claims, it is the burden of the plaintiff to prove negligence. This is the case in most personal injury or similar cases. To prove negligence or wrongdoing requires presenting evidence that demonstrates the following elements:
- Duty of Care: You must establish that the defendant (the party being sued) owed a duty of care to the deceased person. In a maritime context, this typically means that the defendant had a responsibility to provide a safe and secure working environment for the deceased.
- Breach of Duty: You need to show that the defendant breached their duty of care. This involves demonstrating that the defendant’s actions, or lack of action, fell short of the expected standard of care, and that their behavior was negligent or contributed to the death of your loved one.
- Causation: It is essential to establish a causal link between the defendant’s breach of duty and the death. You must demonstrate that the defendant’s negligence was a direct or substantial factor that led to the fatal incident.
- Damages: You must prove that the death resulted in actual damages, such as economic losses suffered by surviving family members or dependents. This can include loss of financial support, loss of care, loss of companionship, and other related losses.
To build a strong case and prove negligence, you will typically need to gather and present various types of evidence. This can include accident reports, witness statements, expert testimony, medical records, employment records, and any other relevant documentation that supports your claims.
What are Some Examples of Negligence in the Maritime Industry?
The maritime industry is one of the most dangerous in the world. Owning and/or operating a ship or other vessel requires knowledge, training, and expertise. It is the responsibility of ship owners and operators to ensure adequate training and a safe working environment for employees. Often, maritime injuries and deaths are the result of negligence on the part of an owner or operator, such as:
- Inadequate training
- Inadequate safety inspections
- Failure to maintain machinery and equipment
- Failure to replace faulty parts
- Unsafe conditions onboard the vessel
- Inadequate lifeboats or life-preservers
- Inadequate personal protective equipment (PPE)
Any action or inaction that leads to an unsafe working environment or unseaworthy vessel could be negligence that qualifies for coverage under the DOHSA.
What are Legal Remedies Under the Death on the High Seas Act?
Under the DOHSA, eligible family members or representatives may seek legal remedies and compensation for the death of a loved one. The potential legal remedies available under the DOHSA include:
The DOHSA allows for recovery of economic losses resulting from the death. This can include:
- Loss of financial support
- Loss of potential inheritance or benefits
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Mental health services
- Other costs related to the death
It is important to note that the DOHSA does not provide for recovery of non-economic damages, such as compensation for pain and suffering or emotional distress caused by the loss of a loved one.
Does the Death on the High Seas Act Only Cover Maritime Workers?
The DOHSA does not exclusively cover maritime workers. While it is often applicable to incidents involving maritime workers, it can also apply to deaths of individuals who are not directly employed in the maritime industry but died due to a wrongful act, negligence, or unseaworthiness on the high seas.
The DOHSA covers deaths that occur on the high seas beyond three nautical miles from the coast of the U.S. This includes various scenarios, such as maritime accidents, airplane crashes over the high seas, or other incidents resulting in fatalities.
What is the Statute of Limitations for Death on the High Seas Claims?
For claims filed under the DOHSA, the statute of limitations is typically three years from the date of the individual’s death. The statute of limitations can vary depending on the specific circumstances of the case. Therefore, it is advisable to consult with a maritime attorney to determine the applicable statute of limitations for your particular situation.
It is important to note that the statute of limitations is a strict deadline. If you fail to file a claim within the specified time period, you may be barred from seeking legal remedies.
Do I Need an Attorney to File a Death on the High Seas Claim?
There is no requirement to have an attorney to file a DOHSA or other maritime injury claim. However, it is highly recommended to seek the assistance of an experienced attorney. There are many reasons why having an attorney can be beneficial, such as:
Maritime law, including the DOHSA, can be complex and challenging to navigate without proper legal knowledge. An attorney with expertise in this area of law will have a deep understanding of the relevant statutes, precedents, and legal processes.
An attorney can assess the details of the case, review the evidence, and provide an objective evaluation of its strengths and weaknesses. They can determine the viability of a claim and advise clients on the potential legal remedies and compensation available.
Building a strong case requires gathering and presenting compelling evidence. An attorney can assist in identifying the necessary evidence, such as accident reports, witness statements, medical records, and other relevant documentation. They can employ their resources and expertise to help strengthen your claim.
An attorney will act as your advocate throughout the legal process. They can communicate and negotiate with the opposing party and their legal representatives on your behalf, increasing the likelihood of a favorable outcome. If necessary, they can also represent you in court.
Filing a DOHSA claim involves adhering to specific procedural requirements, deadlines, and legal protocols. An attorney will ensure that all necessary paperwork is properly prepared, filed, and submitted in a timely manner, avoiding potential pitfalls that could jeopardize your claim.
Contact a Skilled Maritime Injury Attorney Today
If someone you love has died due to negligence on the high seas, Kherkher Garcia wants to help. Our maritime injury attorneys provide compassionate and competent legal support for grieving families. Our goal is to help you recover and obtain a sense of justice for your loss.
Contact us today for a free consultation and to see if you qualify for a DOHSA claim. Call 713-333-1030, or complete our online form to get started.