DOHSA is an acronym for Death on the High Seas Act. It was put into law by the US government back in 1920. In response to the high rate of death among marine men, it was a compensation package that took care of the many families who were left behind. Awarded to those sailors who died during active duty, it was used to provide welfare for those families left behind by men who were guarding the American waterways.
Throughout the years, more amendments were added. Once just focused on the monetary loss due to a seafarer’s death and fallout for their family, many things have been added. One of the most important additions made just two short decades ago is those who lose their lives on aircraft, and any resulting injuries or accidents and damages.
Other amendments made to the Death on High Seas Act allows members of the family and relatives of those who die on the seas to claim trauma and mental illness that can result from grief. It is up to the company who employs the seaman to determine the extent of damages and how much to award the family. Typically, it is based on the seaman’s income before they were killed. But it is a complex mix of factors and calculations. The law only applies to someone who is injured in US territorial waters.
The logistics of the Maritime Law
The maritime law states that any death that occurs on the high seas (which is less than three miles from the American shoreline) is encompassed in this act. The only stipulation is that to be eligible, there has to be evidence that the shipping company was responsible for the death through unlawful acts or negligence. If there is no negligence or unlawful acts found, then the person cannot be compensated under the High Seas Act.
The only time injuries fall under the Death on the High Seas Act is when the injuries sustained are caused through negligence and that the person dies while the settlement is still in court. If, while you are filing for compensation, the seaman dies, then it would fall under the High Seas Act.
The conditions are:
- The suit must be filed within the allotted time limit. Each state has a different timeline, so it is imperative to know the limits of the state where you live. The date is anywhere from one to three years after the death.
- Only immediate relatives can make a claim under the Death on the High Seas Act. Relatives included in the immediate family are offspring, spouses, other family members who have survived the victim, or the parents of the victim.
- There is a court-appointed nominee who is designated to oversee the suit filed by the family members. They are the only ones who are allowed to file the suit legally.
Things that the Death on the High Seas Act will cover:
- Funeral expenses
- Counseling for the remaining survivors
- Other financial costs related to the death
- Loss of the calculated expected financial income
DOHSA and decedent’s contributory negligence
Maritime personal injury cases are similar in that those lawsuits that filed under the DOHSA have a three-year statute of limitations. The reason is that the cases are often complex and require extensive documentation and investigation. Also, sometimes establishing fault is a very difficult thing to do. There needs to be clear negligence on the part of the shipowner to make them at fault for the death.
If the deceased individual in some way contributed to their demise, then the DOHSA rules do not rule out assistance to the family, but it may be a factor when compensation is being calculated. Therefore, the amount awarded to the family might be diminished if it is found that there is contributory negligence on the part of the deceased person.
There was a time when a huge segment of the population worked on the High Seas. When there was a death at sea, it put a huge financial burden on the surviving family members. Originally drafted in 1920, the Death of the High Seas Act has been through many revisions. But it is still in operation and available for those families who have lost a loved one due to a maritime accident.