Because working at sea is inherently dangerous, seamen and maritime workers are at a higher risk of fatal injuries than many land-based workers in the Gulf Region. Nonetheless, offshore employers have an obligation to provide employees with a safe working environment and can be held liable for wrongful death under the Death on the High Seas Act. If a loved one has been killed at sea due to negligence, default, or a wrongful act, an experienced admiralty and maritime lawyer can help you obtain just compensation.
Koch & Schmidt represents surviving family members of seamen and maritime workers who have been killed at sea throughout Southern Louisiana and the Texas Gulf region. Well-versed in the provisions of the Death on the High Seas Act and the available remedies under the Jones Act, we are committed to holding negligent vessel owners accountable for wrongful deaths that occur at sea.
We profoundly understand that losing a loved one in a maritime accident is an overwhelming burden, especially when the tragic death could have been prevented. Our maritime lawyers can help to lift that burden by providing you with knowledge, compassion and powerful legal representation. When you consult Koch & Schmidt, you will have peace of mind, knowing that our maritime lawyers are in your corner.
What is the Death on the High Seas Act?
The Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) of 1920 is designed to compensate the families of seamen, crew members, cruise ship employees, passengers and other individuals who have been killed while working or traveling in international waters. To be eligible, the death must have occurred 3 or more nautical miles from shore. In addition, the law only covers individuals who have died while working on commercial vessels, not privately owned or non-commercial ships.
In short, the spouse, children, and others who qualify as dependents of the decedent (e.g. siblings, parents, grandparents, or grandchildren), may be entitled to damages. A wrongful death claim under DOHSA must be brought by the personal representative of the decedent’s estate, however. To have a valid DOHSA claim, it is necessary to prove that:
- Negligence, inappropriate judgment, or a wrongful act on the part of the ship owner caused or contributed to the death of the seaman or maritime worker
- The vessel was unseaworthy
There are a number of situations that could lead to a viable DOHSA claim. If your loved one worked aboard a vessel with equipment that was improperly maintained, for example, this may constitute negligence on the part of the owner and an unseaworthy vessel.
Finally, DOHSA has been amended to include commercial aircraft and aviation accidents that occur at least 12 nautical miles from U.S. shores. Survivors of individuals killed in a commercial airline accident may be entitled to both economic and non-economic damages.
Recoverable Damages Under DOHSA
Under DOSHA, claimants may be awarded economic damages to cover the costs of the death the seaman, including:
- Lost wages (including pension and benefits)
- Lost and future financial support
- Cost of household services provided by the decedent (e.g. maintenance)
- Funeral and burial costs
- Counseling expenses related to the death
The law does not provide for non-economic damages (pain and suffering, loss of consortium, mental anguish), except for wrongful death claimants in qualifying aviation accidents. Such damages may be available under other federal laws, such as the Jones Act, however.
DOHSA and Contributory Negligence
If the court determines that the deceased seaman or maritime worker caused or contributed to the accident in any way, surviving family members may still file a claim, however the amount of damages awarded will be reduced by the percentage of fault assigned to the decedent.
How long do I have to file a claim under the DOHSA?
A DOHSA claim must be filed within 3 years of the date of the fatal accident. Given the complexities of investigating a death on the high seas, as well as the challenges in determining negligence and potential damages, it is crucial to contact an experienced maritime lawyer as soon as possible.
The Perils of Maritime Work
Seamen and maritime workers on offshore sites or vessels face all types of risks, from falling overboard, to exposure to harmful fumes in enclosed places, to electrical shocks, fires and explosions. The most common grounds for DOHSA claims include:
- Overturned or sunken vessel
- Onboard fire or explosion
- Defective equipment
- Failure to follow safety procedures
- Failure to provide appropriate medical care
- Inadequate training of personnel
If your loved one’s death at sea was caused by these or other negligent acts, our maritime lawyers will make DOHSA work for you and fight for the compensation you deserve.
Contact Our Gulf of Mexico and Louisiana Death on the High Seas Act Lawyers
Losing a loved one to death on the high seas is traumatic. You may be devastated and not know where to turn. Remember, Koch & Schmidt is here to help. We have the skills and experience to hold negligent vessel owners accountable and will fight to help you find justice. Please contact our office today for a free consultation.