HomeLibraryMaritime LawWhat rights to families have when a seaman loses his life at sea?

What rights to families have when a seaman loses his life at sea?


Working at sea is a dangerous job. And, unfortunately, every year many lives are lost as seamen do their jobs in harsh weather and dangerous conditions. Maritime law is designed to offer seamen and their families some protection in the case of injury or death.

When a family loses a loved one at sea, they have many avenues for receiving compensation. These include the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA), the Jones Act, the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA), the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA), and general maritime law.

What is the Death on the High Seas Act (DOSHA)?

Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) – If the death was caused by a “wrongful act, neglect or default occurring on the high seas beyond a marine league (3 nautical miles) from the shore of any state”, the family may recover damages under DOHSA.  The family must be able to prove that the employer was negligent or at fault for the death.

DOHSA compensation is limited to pecuniary or economic damages. These damages include loss of support from past and future earnings and the loss of the value of household services. The family cannot sue for non-pecuniary damages such as loss of love and affection and any pain and suffering the seaman experienced prior to his death.

DOHSA claims often include deaths cause by a ship sinking or capsizing, fires or explosions at sea, lack of medical treatment, improper safety training, improper safety equipment or improper maintenance. DOSHA claims may also be made when a loved one dies in an airplane or helicopter crash more than 12 nautical miles from US shores.

How the Jones Act applies to work-related deaths

Jones Act Law – The Jones Act applies to vessel operators and crew members who suffer work-related death. The worker must spend at least 30% of his time with a specific vessel or fleet of vessels. The death must be caused by the negligence of the vessels owner, the employer, the captain, a vessel operator, or a crew member. Families must be able to prove negligence.

Jones Act cases include unseaworthiness, improper safety gear, inadequate medical attention and defects in a vessel or its equipment.

Jones Act damages include both pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages.

How LHWCA applies to work-related deaths

Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) – The LHWCA covers those who usually work on shore, but are sent to perform maintenance, repairs or other tasks on a vessel or oil rig. Fault does not need to proven under the LHWCA.  Just as in traditional Worker’s Compensation cases, families are eligible for survivor benefits.

Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) –  If the loved one was killed on an oil rig, the family may receive benefits under the OCSLA. These benefits are the same as those extended under the LHWCA.

Death benefits can be very confusing, especially to a grieving family. Families should seek the help of a maritime law attorney to make sure that they receive all the proper compensation for their losses.

If your loved one has died at sea, in the Gulf of Mexico or on the Mississippi River, The Young Firm is especially sorry for your loss.  We would like to help. Contact our New Orleans office at 866-715-3664 to learn about your rights.



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