Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA)

Helping Families Who Have Lost Loved Ones at Sea

Enacted in 1920, the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) is a federal statute that provides for the recovery of damages for the wrongful death of a person on the “high seas” beyond a marine league from the shore of any U.S. state or territory. It was created to fill a gap in maritime law that did not provide a remedy for deaths that occurred outside of state waters. 

Though initially focused on aviation accidents over the high seas, the DOHSA’s provisions have been applied to various maritime-related fatalities, including incidents on and involving cruise ships, oil rigs and platforms, and other vessels beyond a marine league (three nautical miles) from shore. 

Arnold & Itkin helps the families of seamen, offshore workers, and passengers who have been lost at sea. As experienced DOHSA attorneys, we understand how this and other maritime laws apply to these extremely complex and challenging cases. We also understand the importance of finding answers and seeking accountability after losing a loved one.

Call (888) 346-5024 today to talk about your rights under the DOHSA and whether you may have a claim. Your consultation is completely free. 

What Is the DOHSA?

According to 46 U.S. Code § 30302, “When the death of an individual is caused by wrongful act, neglect, or default occurring on the high seas beyond 3 nautical miles from the shore of the United States, the personal representative of the decedent may bring a civil action in admiralty against the person or vessel responsible. The action shall be for the exclusive benefit of the decedent's spouse, parent, child, or dependent relative.”

The DOHSA provides the proper process for a maritime wrongful death case to take place. Because these deaths take place on international waters, there was a need to define the legal rights that one has to seek compensation for a lost loved one. Per the DOHSA, when a seaman suffers fatal injuries because of negligence, a representative can pursue damages on behalf of family members and dependents.

Who Is Eligible for Recovery Under the DOHSA?

In a Death on the High Seas Act claim, the settlement or award is typically distributed to the decedent's beneficiaries, as specified by the Act. This may include:

  • The decedent's spouse
  • The decedent's children, including biological and adopted children
  • The parents of the decedent
  • Dependent relatives of the decedent, if there is no surviving spouse, child, or parent

The distribution of the settlement or award is made based on the pecuniary (financial) loss suffered by these beneficiaries. This means that damages are meant to compensate for the financial support, services, and potential inheritance that the decedent would have provided to these beneficiaries. However, the specifics of distribution can vary based on factors such as state inheritance laws or any relevant will or estate plans left by the decedent. An experienced DOHSA lawyer can help ensure that the distribution is conducted appropriately and in accordance with the law.

What Incidents Qualify Under the Death on the High Seas Act?

DOHSA defines a qualifying situation as the death of an individual "caused by wrongful act, neglect, or default." While specific factors will vary depending on the situation, those falling under the statute include seafarers, seamen, and passengers of maritime vessels and aircraft flying over the high seas. 

The following are examples of incidents that could provide grounds for valid DOHSA claims:

Get a Free Review of Your DOHSA Claim Today

No amount of financial compensation could replace the loss of a spouse, partner, parent, child, or other loved one. Uncovering the truth of the incident and holding at-fault parties responsible can, however, bring peace of mind and a way to rebuild. These legal matters require the attention of professionals who understand wrongful death through the lens of maritime law. At Arnold & Itkin, we have helped individuals and families through the toughest times, helping them move forward and see justice served. We are standing by to see how we can help you.

Contact our team today to talk about your Death on the High Seas Act case and how we can help.

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