Congress enacted the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) in 1920 as a part of the United States Code. It is an admiralty law concerning the legal position of family members of seamen who are killed on international waters because of negligence or "unseaworthiness," which refers to a vessel that falls below reasonable standards of safety. According to DOHSA, spouses, children, and other dependents of a deceased seaman have the ability to pursue damage from the negligent party if their loved one was killed because of negligence.
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 DOHSA, when a seaman suffers fatal injuries because of negligence, a representative can pursue damages on behalf of family members and dependents.
A personal representative is an individual chosen by the deceased or appointed by the court to execute or administer the decedent's estate. When he or she pursues a claim on behalf of the victim of wrongful death, the award obtained from the claim is added to the estate and disbursed in accordance with the decedent's established estate plan or the laws of succession in the state where the estate is established.
DOHSA defines a qualifying situation as the death of an individual "caused by wrongful act, neglect, or default occurring on the high seas beyond a marine league from the shore of any state." While specific factors will vary depending on the situation, those falling under the statute include seafarers, seamen, and passengers of an unseaworthy vessel. The statute provides for the financial compensation of pecuniary losses suffered as a result of the death of the seaman. This means that the damages claimed are intended to compensate dependents that no longer receive the financial support of the decedent. In many cases, the DOHSA may apply to deaths that occur on the high seas by aircraft, but its application will vary based upon the facts of the situation.
At Arnold & Itkin, we understand that financial compensation will never replace the absence of your loved one; however, we do believe in holding the negligent parties accountable for their actions. Furthermore, this type of legal action is intended to provide you with the monetary support you need in order to move forward from this tragic loss. Deaths on the high seas may fall under DOHSA and will also involve other maritime statutes. These legal matters require the attention of professionals who understand wrongful death through the lens of maritime law.
If you lost a loved one to an accident on the high seas, please do not hesitate to contact our firm today!
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