HomeLibraryMaritime LawThe Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) According to Maritime Law

The Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) According to Maritime Law


The Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) passed in 1920 to help widows of seamen recover damages for their husband’s future earnings when deaths occurred in international waters.  It now provides recovery for the death of any person that is caused by negligence or a wrongful act more than three miles from a U.S. shore. DOHSA is a part of maritime law that provides a method for families who lose a loved one in an offshore accident to receive compensation. When citing federal legislation to recover damages and losses in a fatal maritime injury case, it’s best to work with a New Orleans maritime attorney.

Common causes for DOHSA cases include:

  • Capsizing or sinking of a vessel at sea
  • Fire or explosion at sea
  • Inadequate maintenance or unseaworthiness
  • Faulty heavy equipment
  • Improper handling of cargo
  • Improper training of vessel personnel
  • Failure to provide prompt and/or adequate medical care in an emergency

It is important to know that claims under DOHSA can be extremely limited.  Cruise ship companies and other defendants use DOHSA to their advantage to limit the damages for which they are liable.  There is also a three year time limit for DOHSA suits.

Maritime Workers Covered Under the DOHSA

The Death On the High Seas Act covers maritime employees working at least three nautical miles beyond the shore of the United States. This applies to workers on commercial shipping vessels, tugboats, offshore oil rigs, and many other types of vessels.

To be eligible for benefits under the DOHSA, a worker must have suffered a fatal injury while on offshore duty as a result of another party’s negligence. This can include actions such as: 

  • an employer’s failure to provide adequate safety gear;
  • being forced to work in hazardous weather conditions;
  • a co-worker’s horseplay or failure to assist in workplace duties;
  • damaged or malfunctioning vessels and equipment; and
  • unhealthy working conditions.

There are some exceptions to coverage by the DOHSA. If you have filed a personal injury claim against the negligent party, or already have a lawsuit pending under another maritime law action, you may not be able to file a claim under the DOHSA.

Rights to Recovering Damages Under the DOHSA

When a maritime accident lawsuit is brought against another party for the death of a maritime worker, the settlement is for the benefit of their spouse, children, parent, or other dependent relatives. Families who have lost a loved one in an accident at sea due to negligence have the right to work with a New Orleans maritime attorney to make sure they receive the benefits to which they are entitled under maritime law.

The damages sought in a DOHSA claim are known as pecuniary damages. They are designed to cover the family’s loss of financial contributions and their emotional distress. Calculating the value of a DOHSA claim involves determining a deceased workers’ future earning potential, as well as the personal losses a family will now face due to the loss of their loved one.

Before you begin filing claims and lawsuits you should establish your case with a New Orleans maritime attorney so they can advise you regarding the best course of action for recovery. Different parts of the maritime law apply to different situations, and your settlement for damages can be greatly affected by the form of law you use to file your claim.

The family members of Jones Act seamen who die while working on board a vessel may bring a wrongful death claim against the vessel owner through the Jones Act. These claims seek financial damages for:

  • lost wages (both past and future);
  • medical services furnished prior to death;
  • funeral expenses; and
  • pre-death pain and suffering on behalf of the decedent.

This kind of claim is generally reserved for those who sustained a pecuniary, or financial, loss of some kind by the death, which must be demonstrated through tax returns and other knowable, articulable facts.

Who Can File Wrongful Death Claim for Compensation Under the Jones Act

Those who qualify to bring a wrongful death action claim under the Jones Act include:

  • children and stepchildren who sustained a pecuniary loss by the death;
  • surviving spouse, although divorced spouses are not eligible;
  • dependent parents, although non-dependent parents are not eligible; and
  • siblings dependent on the decedent.

Get Help with DOHSA Claims from a New Orleans Maritime Attorney 

When you’ve lost a loved one due to negligence at sea, there are many parts of general maritime law that may apply to your situation. The Death on the High Seas Act is just one of the many rules that can help your family recover financially from the loss of your loved one.

At The Young Firm in New Orleans, we help maritime workers nationwide seek justice through Jones Act and Maritime Law claims. Though we are based in Louisiana, we are ready and able to help injured victims throughout the U.S.Order our free Maritime Injury Law guide and/or our guide to what to do when you are injured offshore to learn all about your rights as an injured worker under the Jones Act.

When you are ready to get started with your maritime fatal injury case, we urge you to contact us today for a FREE case evaluation – call toll free at 866-723-4311.



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