Death on the High Seas Act
Little-known law can yield high settlements in fatal maritime injury lawsuits
In other pages on this site, we have reviewed Worker's Compensation-like
programs that apply to "seamen" (Jones Act), "longshore and harbor workers" (Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act), and
"offshore" workers (the same benefits generally available to longshore and harbor workers
were extended by the
Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act).
In today's post, the maritime worker injury lawyer at the
Doan Law Firm provides an introduction to the "Death on the High Seas Act"
and how it can benefit those who have lost a family member to a fatal
The Death on the High Seas Act is a law enacted by the United States Congress
in 1920. Its original intent was to permit "… recovery of
damages against a shipowner by a spouse, child or dependent family member
of a seaman killed in international waters [ > 3 nautical miles from
the nearest point of U. S. shoreline] …" in wrongful death
cases "… caused by negligence or unseaworthiness." It
was later amended (§ 30307) to apply to wrongful death cases arising out of airline disasters
over the high seas that occur
beyond the 12-nautical-mile jurisdiction of U.S. territorial waters.
Death on the High Seas Act lawsuits are tried in federal court
In order to have a successful Death on the High Seas Act lawsuit, you
must be able to prove that the deceased 1) died in an accident that meets the
location requirements of the Act and 2) that the accident was due to the
negligence of the vessel's owner or crew, or 3) the vessel was "unseaworthy"
for any reason.
Note that the Death on the High Seas Act applies to any crew members and
passengers who die as a result of an accident on a vessel that was outside
the three-mile limit jurisdiction of the United States when the death
occurred. The Act also applies to any death involving a crew member or
passenger aboard a commercial aircraft that crashes more than 12 nautical
miles from the nearest landfall of the U. S. coastline or the coastline
of its territories. However, the Great Lakes are specifically excluded
from eligibility under the Act.
Due to the fact that
all deaths that are subject to the Death on the High Seas Act occur in international
waters, all lawsuits brought under the Act are tried in federal court
regardless of where the victim resided or where the plaintiff(s) live
when the case is filed.
As the Act is currently written, and interpreted by the courts,
only the following relatives can file a wrongful death claim:
- a spouse
- minor or adult children
- dependent family members
Damages available in Death on the High Seas Act lawsuits
As in any other wrongful death lawsuit, the survivor(s) is/are entitled
to ask the court to award damages or "compensation" for the
death of their family member. According to the Act itself, both
pecuniary (monetary) and
nonpecuniary (non-monetary) may be available. However,
punitivedamages are not generally available in these lawsuits.
If the court finds that the deceased's actions contributed to his or
her death, the survivor(s) may still collect damages. The amount of damages
first be determined and
then reduced by the percentage that the deceased is deemed responsible for their own death.
If damages are awarded, they are awarded to the
family as a whole rather than to the deceased's estate or only to the plaintiff(s).
The court will distribute any damages to survivors in proportion to the
court's determination of each's degree of loss.
Contacting a Death on the High Seas Act lawyer
Although the Death on the High Seas Act is relatively unknown outside the
legal community, it offers the survivors of these accidental death victims
an opportunity for compensation that they may not have known was available.
To arrange a
free evaluation of your potential Death on the High Seas lawsuit, you should contact the
maritime wrongful death lawyer at the
Doan Law Firm via our national hotline, through one of our local offices, or by
At the Doan Law Firm, your first consultation with us is always free and
does not obligate you to hire us to represent you in your Death on the
High Seas Act lawsuit. Should you later decide that we should represent
you in court, we are always willing to assume full responsibility for
all aspects of preparing your wrongful death case for trial
in exchange for an agreed-upon percentage of the final settlement that we will win for you.