Did you know that in an accident more than three miles offshore, neither state nor general maritime law applies?

When you reach the three-mile mark, fatal vessel accidents are covered by the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA). 

The Death on the High Seas Act is a federal law that applies to workers and passengers who experience an accident resulting in their death:

  • More than three miles offshore on a vessel; or
  • More than 12 miles offshore on a commercial aircraft. 

DOHSA applies when someone’s death “is caused by wrongful act, neglect, or default occurring on the high seas.”

Who Can Sue Under DOHSA?

The personal representative of the deceased person can sue under DOHSA. Lawsuit proceeds go to immediate family members, such as the decedent’s spouse, parent, or child.

What Do You Have to Prove?

You have to prove that your loved one’s death was caused by negligence or by a faulty vessel or aircraft.

For instance, if the ship captain consumed alcohol while on duty or if improper storage of chemicals caused an explosion, these scenarios would meet the standard for negligence.

What Can You Recover Under DOHSA?

DOHSA allows survivors of someone killed at sea to recover only pecuniary losses, such as loss of financial support.

Further, DOHSA does not allow family members to claim expenses accrued by their loved one or their loved one’s estate.

Therefore, family members usually can’t recover medical bills and funeral expenses.

However, if someone injured at sea files a claim and then dies while the claim is pending, family members can continue the claim under DOHSA.

For this reason, you should speak to a maritime lawyer immediately after your loved one sustains critical injuries at sea.

When Can You Sue?

You can file a claim as soon as your loved one is injured or killed offshore.

It is best to take legal action as soon as possible after an accident because critical evidence will likely disappear over time.

Further, the Death on the High Seas Act statute of limitations is three years.

This means you cannot file a lawsuit more than three years after the accident.

Should You Sue Under DOHSA?

Since DOHSA offers such a limited remedy, family members usually prefer to file under state law or maritime law for more favorable damages if they can.

For instance, when comparing the Death on the High Seas Act vs. the Jones Act, the differences are significant.

You can recover pain and suffering under the Jones Act, whereas you cannot under DOHSA. Depending on the case, this difference could be substantial.

However, when DOHSA applies, it preempts all other laws, meaning you usually can’t file a claim under state law or other maritime law.

In some instances, such as wrongful death claims against a maritime employer, you can file a Jones Act claim. As mentioned, this strategy can prove advantageous because the Jones Act gives more relief than DOHSA.

Contact a Maritime Lawyer

Since DOHSA rules are complex, you should speak to an experienced maritime attorney before taking legal action.

At Armstrong, Lee & Baker, LLP we represent clients who have experienced tragic maritime accidents.

We can explain maritime law complexities and advise you on the best legal strategy to recover compensation for your loved one’s death.

Contact us today for a free consultation to learn more about your legal options.

Disclaimer: This content should not be construed as legal advice

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Joshua Lee believes in aggressive, tough advocacy and a client-centered approach to every case. Joshua draws from a wide body of experiences and a robust understanding of the law. Joshua graduated from the New York University School of Law in New York City, which is considered among the best law schools in the world.