Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA)

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The attorneys at Pierce | Skrabanek express their condolences for your loss. Our firm understands that when your loved one has lost their life far from shore, it’s hard to see how you can move forward when you cannot get closure on what has just happened. There are things you can do to understand the impact this tragedy may have on your family and what rights and resources you have for moving toward recovery.

The material offered on this page is presented to you by Pierce | Skrabanek as a resource to provide information about the Death on the Highs Seas Act, including the following:

  • types of damages the law covers,
  • location where the law is enforced,
  • limitations on the types of vessels covered, and
  • who can file a claim.

The law firm of Pierce | Skrabanek is deeply experienced with cases such as yours. We have been studying the laws and investigating countless events where death occurs at high seas. In addition to the information below, we are available at any time to talk over your case and answer your questions, with no obligation to you. Our law firm works on a contingency basis, which means no up-front cost to you; we only collect a fee if your case is successful. Our firm understands what you’re going through and can help you with righting the wrongs that you’ve experienced.

About the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA)

The Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) was created by the US Congress 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. It allows for the family member or personal representative to make a claim against a shipowner for financial compensation for their loved one’s death.

To make a Death on the High Seas Act claim, there are certain rules that must be followed. Not only must you be able to prove that your loved one died as the result of neglect or misconduct on the part of the shipowner, but you must also be able to prove that they were a sufficient distance from shore for the Death on the High Seas Act to apply. Finally, you must pull together the appropriate information and file your claim within the time specified by the Death on the High Seas Act statute of limitations.

As you might imagine, it can be incredibly stressful to think about filing a claim and entering the legal system while you and your family are trying to process your grief. That is why many family members of those killed under maritime law choose to hire an experienced maritime attorney to help them file their Death on the High Seas Act claim.

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Death on the High Seas Act Damages

Nobody likes the word “lawsuit,” but the truth is that seeking out the services of a reliable attorney with years of experience in maritime law can be the key to keeping your family afloat. When your life has suffered from the impact of a loved one dying due to a shipowner’s negligence, you deserve to receive financial compensation from the shipowner. Seeking compensation is not about taking revenge on the shipowner or their company. Instead, it is about standing up for your family by seeking the resources you will need to carry on with your lives and minimize the tragedy’s impact on your day-to-day lifestyle.

The Death on the High Seas Act covers damages including:

  • 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 shipowner negligence that ultimately led to their death, you may also be entitled to financial compensation for the conscious pain and suffering they experienced. This issue can be more difficult to determine. An experienced maritime lawyer will know the right questions to ask and will help you understand if these damages are applicable in your case.

Having a knowledgeable lawyer to guide you through the process of filing a Death on the High Seas Act claim will make this difficult time much less stressful for you and your family. A good maritime lawyer will partner with you to understand the circumstances surrounding your loved one’s death and create a plan of action for filing a Death on the High Seas Act claim. Having a lawyer to help you secure financial compensation gives you and your family the freedom to process your emotions without worrying about the future.

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What does Death on the High Seas Act Cover

Since the Death on the High Seas Act was created by Congress in 1920, it has undergone several updates to reflect the changes in modern transportation and technology. In general, the Death on the High Seas Act covers the rights of workers or passengers on any vessel three nautical miles from shore, including:

  • Oil rigs
  • Cruise ships
  • Commercial fishing boats
  • Chartered boats
  • Ferries
  • Tour boats
  • Commercial aviation

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.


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Contact an Experienced Maritime Attorney to Help

Filing a Death on the High Seas Act claim can be very complicated, because the laws surrounding maritime wrongful death are quite complex. 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 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 pursuing Death on the High Seas Act claims. If you have suffered the death of a loved one, please contact us today. There is no obligation or cost for your call—we are here to listen and help you understand your rights.

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