Death on the High Seas Act

There are different recovery schemes in place when deaths occur offshore. When a death occurs more than 12 nautical miles in aviation accidents (helicopter or plane), or more than 10 miles offshore of Texas or Florida, or 3 miles offshore Louisiana, Mississippi or Alabama, the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) applies. DOHSA was created in 1920 to provide recovery of damages for the death of anyone killed on or over international waters when their death is caused by wrongful act or neglect. Prior to 1920, there was no recovery scheme for Americans who died in international waters. DOHSA allows for the family member or personal representative to make a claim against a responsible party for financial compensation for their loved one's death.

DOHSA has specific procedural requirements in order to make a claim. Proving a DOHSA claim requires showing that the responsible party was negligent, and also that the death occurred a sufficient distance from shore. Some claims will be covered by state law if they are not sufficiently distant from shore. Finally, there is a statute of limitations that applies. Sometimes, families may have no idea that the responsible party could have prevented the accident, and it is important that you contact an experienced maritime lawyer who can guide you through this process and file a claim before the statute of limitations expires.

Remedies under the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA)

Large companies want individuals to think that it is shameful to file a lawsuit, but there is no shame in demanding that those companies pay for their neglect or misconduct.  If a company burned your house down by accident, would you be ashamed to sue them for the damages?  How can you replace the family photos and feeling of home?  When it comes to replacing a home, it can be rebuilt, but when a life has been taken from our family, there is a hole that can never be replaced.  That is not a reason to do nothing—it is a reason to demand justice.   Why should you and your family have to bear the burden of someone else’s negligence?  If you are thinking of hiring an attorney to assist you in representing your family for the death of a loved one, these are the damages the Death on the High Seas Act covers:

  • Funeral Expenses: The costs you and your family have incurred in giving your loved one a funeral.
  • Financial Support and Contribution: The finances that your loved one would have contributed to the care of their spouse and dependents over the course of their career.
  • Loss of Services: The estimated monetary value of services that your loved one would have performed or provided to those within their home.
  • Nurture to Dependent Children: The finances required for care and upbringing of children in your loved one’s absence. This can include services such as in-home caregiving and grief counseling.
  • Loss of Inheritance: The monetary support your loved one would ultimately have offered to their children over the course of their normal life expectancy.

In addition, if your loved one incurred injury from the negligence of a responsible party that ultimately led to their death, you may also be entitled to financial compensation for the conscious pain and suffering they experienced.  Sometimes there are survivors who may also be entitled to recovery of bystander damages.   An experienced maritime lawyer  like Paxton Crew will assist you in evaluating what damages are available to you and your family.

Hiring someone with experience to assist you and your family will help you understand the procedures you must follow to file a claim, and also provide you with a road map for handling the various obstacles the defendant will try and impede you with.  We often hear the question, “why don’t they just settle and pay what they owe?”   The answer to this is because the lawyers and insurance companies opposing you are in the business of telling you your case is not worth what you think it is.  This is why you need a lawyer who will guide you every step of the way and ensure you maximize your chances of recovery, and take the hassle and burden of negotiating away so you can grieve and move on with your life.

Death on the High Seas Act Coverage

In general, the Death on the High Seas Act covers the rights of workers or passengers on any vessel ten or more miles from shore in Texas or Florida, and three nautical miles or more from shore in Louisiana, Alabama or Mississippi, including:

  • Cruise Ships
  • Offshore Platforms and Oil Rigs
  • Commercial fishing boats
  • Charter and party boats
  • Ferries
  • Hovercraft
  • Tour boats
  • Commercial aviation (helicopters and fish spotting planes)

In the case of aviation accidents resulting in death on the high seas, the accident must have taken place more than 12 nautical miles from the shores of the United States.

Some types of vessels or accidents are not covered under the Death on the High Seas Act. These include:

  • Offshore drilling rigs
  • Non-commercial aviation, involving corporate or privately owned aircraft, as well as non-commercial helicopter flights
  • Any transportation over the high seas that does not involve compensation or hire

In addition, the law is very specific about who may be eligible to file a Death on the High Seas Act claim. Eligible claimants include the following:

  • A wife or husband who was married to the deceased at the time of their death. Common law spouses are also eligible, as long as their common law marriage complies with state law. Divorced spouses, however, are not eligible to seek Death on the High Seas Act damages.
  • Children (biological children, adoptive children and stepchildren) who have suffered financial losses due to the death.
  • Parents who were considered financial dependents of the deceased.
  • Siblings who were considered financial dependents of the deceased.

You should be aware that even if your deceased loved one was partly at fault for the incident that led to the death, that does not necessarily make you ineligible to file a Death on the High Seas Act claim. You and your family may still have the right to financial compensation. If this is your situation, an experienced lawyer can help you understand how your claim may be affected and what kind of financial compensation you can expect.

Finally, the Death on the High Seas Act does include a three-year statute of limitations. This means that following the death of your loved one on the high seas, you have a limited timeframe in which to file a Death on the High Seas Act claim. This is yet another reason why you are best served by seeking the services of a maritime lawyer who can ensure that your claim for Death on the High Seas Act recovery is filed within the right time for you to receive all the compensation to which you are entitled.

Contact an Experienced Maritime Attorney to Help

Filing a Death on the High Seas Act claim are not like other claims—they are covered by a very specific regime and will in all likelihood involve proceeding in federal court.  Maritime law is complicated and so is proceeding in Federal Court. If you are seeking financial compensation following the death of a loved one on the high seas, it is essential to contact an experienced maritime attorney who has experience practicing in Federal Court to help you work through the legal process of filing a claim. Many attorneys will offer an initial consultation at no charge.

Our law firm has years of experience in maritime law, including many successful cases of involving maritime wrongful death claims with some of the largest federal judgments in Texas involving maritime personal injuries.   If you have suffered the death of a loved one, please contact us today.  All consultations for personal injuries are free at the Crew Law Firm, P.C. and there is no obligation to hire us.  We are here to help.

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303 East Main Street, Suite 260
League City, Texas 77573