If you have lost a loved one at sea and the cause of the incident was negligence, you may be entitled to pecuniary damages through the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA). Being out to sea is always risky, and when there is negligence involved, it increases the risks even more. If your loved one died this way, know your rights and rely on an experienced maritime lawyer to help you make a claim.
Qualifying for DOHSA Compensation
This federal act compensates the surviving dependent family members of those workers who die at sea. There are a few qualifications for DOHSA recipients:
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- The death must have occurred three or more nautical miles from the U.S. shore.
- The act only covers those who died working aboard a commercial vessel.
- DOHSA does not cover privately-owned and non-commercial ships.
Anyone who qualifies as a dependent of the deceased may file a claim under the DOHSA to seek compensation. This includes people who were financially dependent on the worker, including a spouse, children, siblings, parents, grandparents, or grandchildren.
A dependent filing a claim must be able to prove negligence. They must show that inappropriate judgment or a wrongful act on the ship owner’s part contributed to the seaman’s death. It also must be proven that the vessel was unseaworthy.
Many situations could qualify under these guidelines. For instance, if your loved one worked aboard a ship with equipment that was not properly maintained, that represents both negligence on the part of the owner and an unseaworthy vessel. If that equipment caused an accident that led to the death of a worker, their dependents could make a claim through DOHSA.
The DOHSA also applies to commercial aircraft and aviation accidents. If a plane crash occurs beyond 12 nautical miles from the U.S. shore, dependents of those killed can seek nonpecuniary damages. This means damages for loss of comfort, companionship, and care.
Compensation Under DOHSA
If a loved one of a deceased seaman can prove that the owner was negligent and that the vessel was unseaworthy, they can make a claim through the DOHSA for compensation.
The law states that those claimants will be apportioned recovery according to the extent of the loss. Pecuniary, or specific, damages are awarded to cover several costs related to the loss of the seaman:
- Lost current and future financial support for dependents
- Funeral costs
- Expenses for any counseling related to the death
- Lost wages owed to a spouse or other dependent, including pension and benefits
- The cost of household services provided by the deceased, like lawn care or maintenance
Limitations of DOHSA Compensation
The DOHSA does not cover all costs related to the deceased or to all family members of that worker:
- An ex-spouse is not entitled to recover any damages, nor are adult children not living at home.
- Dependent children may receive compensation until they are 18 or longer if they attend college or another higher education institution.
- The DOHSA also does not provide for nonpecuniary damages, except for the dependents of the deceased who meet the aviation accident requirements.
- Mental anguish, pain, suffering, and grief these types of damages are not covered by DOHSA, but other federal maritime laws, like the Jones Act, cover them.
A claim must be made within three years of the fatal accident. Determining negligence, calculating lost wages, and other compensation factors is complicated and takes time.
For this reason, if you need to file a DOHSA claim, it is recommended that you do it as soon after the death as possible.
DOHSA and Contributory Negligence
In situations in which the deceased was negligent in the accident in some way, dependent family members are not denied compensation. The negligence on the part of the deceased that contributed to their death is considered when compensation is determined.
It can cause the amount of damages recovered by dependents to be reduced from what it would have been if the deceased was found not to be negligent.
Losing a loved one at sea is devastating. It can be tough to navigate the legal process of filing for the damages you are owed while also coping with your grief. To determine your rights in your specific case, rely on the assistance of an attorney experienced with maritime law and the DOHSA.