Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA)
Maritime Death Lawyers with Offices in Houston, Dallas & Baton Rouge
The Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) is an admiralty law created in 1920 to permit recovery of damages by family members of a seaman killed in international waters or a wrongful death situation. Today, the DOHSA has extended to protect cases where an airline disaster over the high seas occurred beyond 12 nautical miles of the territorial limit of U.S. waters. DOHSA was created to hold employers accountable for the safety measures required for a safe working environment. Seamen and harbor workers are required to complete hazardous tasks daily; their lives depend on the ability of their employers to create a safe work environment.
When a maritime employer's irresponsibility or negligence leads to the death of a worker, the worker's family can file for compensation under the Death on the High Seas Act.
Hazards of Maritime Work
Per the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the rate of injuries for shipyard work is more than twice that of the construction industry. This high injury rate makes it one of the most dangerous occupations.
Employees on offshore sites face dangers including:
- The possibility of falling overboard
- Exposure to fumes in enclosed spaces
- Chemical burns
- Powerful electrical shocks
- Explosions of machinery
Due to hazards such as these, shipyard workers need to understand their rights under maritime law. If the death of your loved was the result of or related to any of these kinds of accidents or an accident unlisted here, it is vital that you understand the DOHSA and how it can help you. Additionally, it is essential to hire expert maritime legal counsel to navigate this act and use it to at least partially provide recovery for your significant loss.
The Difference Between DOHSA & the Jones Act
The main difference between the Jones Act and the DOHSA is the occupational necessity of the Jones Act. The Jones Act covers maritime workers out at sea. These workers must be assisting in the operation of the vessel to be covered. On a cruise ship, the employees that work on the ship will be covered under the Jones Act in the event of wrongful death. However, the citizens on the ship are not covered since they are not employees.
The DOHSA covers passengers on a maritime vessel who are killed outside of the three-mile territorial coast of the United States. Once a vessel has crossed the three-mile coastline, families of passengers who are not employed by the vessel are eligible for DOHSA benefits in the event of a high seas death. On a cruise ship, the passengers who are using the cruise ship's service will be covered under DOHSA in the event of wrongful death.
Although it has been a vastly helpful piece of legislature since its establishment in 1920, the DOHSA has notable restrictions. As mentioned, it will cover death in the event of a commercial airline crash, but only if the airline crash occurred 12 miles past the border of United States waters. If your case qualifies, and it comes time to recover financial compensation, DOHSA only covers certain aspects of your loss. In other wrongful death suits, families can receive damages for pain and suffering, loss of future wages, and loss of companionship, but these losses are not covered under DOHSA. The act only covers financial compensation immediately pertaining to the loss of your loved one and no other related expenses. However, there are other avenues through which to obtain compensation for those expenses. An experienced legal team can help navigate them for you.
Death on the High Seas Act FAQ
Can I file a lawsuit if a loved one died working offshore?
Working on an oil platform is not only physically demanding, but it also comes with a large set of risks. Many fatal incidents that take place offshore could have been prevented, but often safety is sacrificed for time and cost-effectiveness. If your loved one was killed due to the negligence of another, you can file a claim under DOHSA. Compensation is for the exclusive benefit of the killed worker's spouse, parent, child, or dependent relative, and it is strictly limited to monetary losses. Benefits may also be found under the Jones Act, which provides wrongful death benefits to the family of a seaman who dies due to his employer's negligence.
How do I know if I have a case under the Death on the High Seas Act?
Generally speaking, the Death on the High Seas Act applies to maritime deaths that occur at least three miles offshore. Whether your loved one was a passenger or a maritime worker, you could have a valid DOHSA case if shipowner negligence or an unseaworthy vessel was the cause of their death. At Arnold & Itkin, we offer a free initial consultation to talk about your case and how we can help. With our extensive experience in maritime law, we are confident in our ability to accurately assess the situation and guide you toward the right path.
Who can file a claim under the Death on the High Seas Act?
If you are the spouse, child, or dependent of a maritime worker or passenger of a vessel who lost their life in international waters, you may have a case under the Death on the High Seas Act. DOHSA cases apply to wrongful deaths caused by shipowner negligence or an unseaworthy vessel. They allow family members to pursue financial compensation from the at-fault party for lost income and other damages. DOHSA cases can also include cases of airplane accidents in international waters, at least 12 miles from U.S. territorial waters.
How do I prove negligence in a DOHSA case?
The DOHSA applies only to deaths caused by unseaworthy vessels or negligence. Proving negligence can be difficult, particularly because the incident occurred in foreign waters. It takes a detailed investigation to uncover evidence that proves negligence—a failure to act with proper care or caution in the circumstances.
Examples of negligence under the Death on the High Seas Act may include:
- Inadequate safety inspections
- Not enough lifeboats for passengers and crew
- Failure to replace aging equipment
- Failure to provide proper equipmen
- Unsafe conditions on the vessel
Additionally, if any equipment on a vessel is not designed correctly, reasonably maintained, or does not work properly, this may render the vessel unseaworthy and thus entitle the surviving family member of a passenger or seaman who lost his or her life to compensation under the Death on the High Seas Act.
Does the Death on the High Seas Act apply to vessels lost in hurricanes?
The Death on the High Seas Act may apply to people who lose their lives in vessels that capsize and sink in tropical storms and hurricanes. Even though Mother Nature may have been the cause of the incident, the families of those who have been lost at sea can seek justice if negligence or unseaworthiness were involved. Some companies try to keep offshore rigs producing even when storms are imminent. Others fail to evacuate crews when hurricanes are on the horizon. Practices like these place everyone on the vessel at risk, such as the crews of the El Faro, the Seacor Power, the Deepwater Asgard, and the Globetrotter II.
Houston Maritime Wrongful Death Attorneys: Call (888) 493-1629 Today
At Arnold & Itkin, we understand the pain involved in wrongful death. Our caring team will serve you tirelessly to provide you with the best legal representation possible. When you contact a maritime attorney from our firm, you will receive knowledgeable legal counsel about how to proceed with filing a claim. Arnold & Itkin is a nationally renowned maritime injury law firm dedicated to bringing justice to victims and families of victims who have needlessly suffered. Our team will go to any length to provide you with the help you need.
If your loved one was wrongfully killed at sea, call us today at (888) 493-1629 to schedule your free consultation.