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Death on the High Seas Act (“DOHSA”) applies to any death occurring beyond the territorial seas of any state or the United States. Having previously represented shipping, cruise line and marine insurance companies for 19 years, the board certified maritime attorneys at the law firm of Brais Law Firm are in a unique position to protect the families of cruise ship passengers, crew members and oil field workers whose family member dies while working or traveling at sea. The lawyers at the law firm of Brais Law Firm with offices in Miami, Florida and Boston, Massachusetts are here to help the families of cruise ship passengers, crew members & oil field workers as a result of a shipboard or offshore accident causing death.

Liability Under Death On The High Seas Act (“DOHSA”)

Liability under DOHSA may be based upon negligence, unseaworthiness if the decedent was a seaman, intentional conduct and strict or products liability. This Act applies to all decedents no matter if they are maritime workers or non-maritime workers, for example the death of a cruise ship passenger depending upon where the vessel is at the time of the acts giving rise to the death. Only the personal representative of the deceased individual can bring a DOHSA action, and that action is pursued on behalf of, or for the benefit of, the decedent’s spouse, child(ren), parents or other financially dependent relatives.

Damages Under Death On The High Seas Act (“DOHSA”)

DOHSA allows recovery of only those damages which represent financial support and contributions which the decedent’s family would have received had their loved one lived. As such, DOHSA remedies are limited to funeral expenses, medical expenses, loss of inheritance, loss of support, loss of services and parental nurture to children. Generally, the Act does not provide damages for pre-death pain and suffering, lost wages, mental pain and anguish or loss of society. There is, however, an exception to this general rule. If the decedent is a Jones Act seaman and regardless whether the death occurs within or beyond the territorial seas of any state or the United States, the seaman’s estate may pursue damages for the decedent’s pre-death pain and suffering under the Jones Act. DOHSA, originally enacted by Congress in 1920, is drastically outdated, inconsistent with modern age concepts of insurance and self-insurance through Protection & Indemnity Clubs. Depending upon a rig’s proximity to the U.S. or a territory of the U.S., DOHSA may apply to a death occurring on an offshore drilling rig, failing which the death claim will be governed by the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, 43 U.S.C. §§ 1331-1356 and by the laws of the adjacent state.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) – Death on the High Seas Act

Who may Bring an Action Under DOHSA?

The personal representative of any person (seaman, passenger or guest, passenger and crew on aircraft that crash over the high seas, and even those killed in foreign territorial waters), who died beyond the territorial seas of any state or the United States, may bring a DOHSA claim on behalf of the decedent’s beneficiaries.

Who is a Beneficiary Under DOHSA?

DOHSA allows recovery on behalf of the decedent’s beneficiaries. Beneficiaries have been determined to include:

  • Surviving spouse – A wife or husband who was married to the decedent at the time of death. Common law spouses (as long as their common law marriage complies with the applicable state law) have been held to be a surviving spouse. Divorced spouses, however, are not deemed to be beneficiates.
  • Children – Biological children as well as stepchildren who have suffered pecuniary losses due to the death have been held to be beneficiaries.
  • Parents – Dependent parents are considered beneficiaries. Non-dependent parents, however, are not beneficiaries.
  • Siblings – Siblings who are dependent on the decedent may be deemed dependents.

When Must I File a DOHSA Claim?

A DOHSA claim must be filed within three years of the date of death. However, if the decedent was traveling as a passenger on board a cruise ship, the ticket contract may well reduce the three-year time period to one year.

What Types of Damages are Recoverable Under a DOHSA Claim?

Damages under DOHSA are determined based upon the actual or projected value of the financial benefit that would have been received from the decedent. Under this theory, the following damages are available:

  • Financial Support and Contribution – The financial contributions that the decedent would have made to his spouse and dependents over the course of his/her work life expectancy less any amount determined to be for the care and maintenance of the decedent personally.
  • Loss of Services – The monetary value of services the decedent would have provided to the beneficiaries around the home.
  • Nurture to Dependent Children – The value of care, guidance and training to the decedent’s children.
  • Loss of Inheritance – The value of the decedent’s monetary support over the life expectancy of the decedent to dependents.
  • Funeral Expenses – Funeral expenses are allowed to the point actually paid by the beneficiaries.
  • Pre-Death Pain and Suffering – Is recoverable under at least two circumstances:
    1. if the decedent is a Jones Act Seaman or
    2. if a personal injury plaintiff having previously brought suit later dies.

What Types of Damages are not Recoverable Under DOHSA?

The measure of recovery under a DOHSA is limited to pecuniary damages and, therefore, non-pecuniary losses are not recoverable, to wit:

  • Grief, bereavement, and mental anguish of dependents are not compensable;
  • Loss of society and consortium are also not recoverable because these are non-pecuniary losses.

Contact Experienced Maritime Wrongful Death Attorneys Today to Obtain Help

The attorneys at the law firm of Brais Law Firm have the experience to protect your rights, the compassion to serve your needs, and the skill to obtain the compensation you deserve. To reach our lawyers you may click call 800-499-0551 from within the U.S., call 305-790-4600 with Florida or click Contact Us to select and complete a form for a free evaluation of your case.