Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA)
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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 who was killed in international waters or a wrongful death situation. Today, the DOHSA has also 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.
This act was created to hold employers accountable for the safety measures that are required for a safe working environment. Seamen and harbor workers are required to complete hazardous tasks on a daily basis, and 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 survivor's family can file for compensation under the Death on 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 in the U.S. For this reason, it is especially important for shipyard workers to understand their rights under maritime law so they and their families can be prepared if an accident or fatality occurs. A personal representative of the deceased can bring a DOHSA claim on behalf of the decedent's spouse, children, or other dependents.
The DOHSA limits the compensation available to the monetary loss suffered by the family as a result of the death and does not cover non-pecuniary damages. In short, this means that family members are not compensated for the loss of companionship, pain and suffering, as well as earning potential or future medical expenses.
If the death occurred on an offshore vessel, it must be beyond three nautical miles from shore to qualify under the DOHSA.
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.
Death on the High Seas Act FAQ
Who can file a claim under the Death on the High Seas Act?
If you are the spouse, child, or dependent family member of a maritime worker or passenger of a vessel who lost his or her life in international waters, you may have a case under the Death on the High Seas Act. These cases apply to wrongful deaths caused by shipowner negligence or an unseaworthy vessel, and they allow family members to pursue financial compensation from the at-fault party for lost income and other damages.
The Death on the High Seas Act also applies to airplane accidents in international waters, at least 12 miles from U.S. territorial waters.
How do I prove negligence in a DOSHA case?
The DOSHA applies only to maritime worker and passenger deaths that are caused by unseaworthy vessels and/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 all passengers and crew
- Failure to replace aging equipment
- Failure to provide proper equipment and safety gear
- Unsafe conditions on the vessel
Additionally, if any equipment on a vessel is not properly designed, 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.
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 DOSHA 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—one that ends in answers and the justice your loved one deserves.
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. The families of those who have been lost at sea, even though Mother Nature may have been the cause of the incident, 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, like the crews of the El Faro, the Seacor Power, the Deepwater Asgard, and the Globetrotter II.
Can I File a Lawsuit If a Loved One Died Working Offshore?
The maritime work environment is dangerous, but thankfully there are provisions and laws in place in the event of an accident or death. Work on an oil platform is not only physically demanding, but it also it comes with a large set of risks. These include flammable material, heavy equipment, and the risk of slip and fall injuries, just to name a few. Accidents can occur even if the proper safety regulations are being adhered to.
Many 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. As a seaman, you and your family would be covered under some time of maritime law, most likely either of these two.
This is, essentially, a wrongful death claim for families of seamen.
Houston Maritime Wrongful Death Attorneys: Call (888) 493-1629 Today
At Arnold & Itkin, we understand the pain and grief that is involved in a wrongful death accident. Our caring team will serve you tirelessly to provide you with the best legal representation during this trying time. When you contact a maritime attorney from our firm about a wrongful death situation, you will receive knowledgeable legal counsel about how to proceed with filing a claim. Please contact us about your situation, even if you don't see the need to recover monetary compensation. It is important for negligent employers to be held responsible for their actions, and you may be able to prevent future accidents on offshore rigs by taking legal action with the help of an experienced, top-rated attorney.
Call (888) 493-1629 to discuss your case with a law firm that puts everything we have into winning. No matter what.