What is the Death on the High Seas Act?

Photo of an offshore construction platform for oil and gas production and a boat

Photo of an offshore construction platform for oil and gas production and a boatThe Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) was created in 1920 in response to a lack of wrongful death doctrine under maritime law. It allows the family members of crewpersons who die while at sea to receive limited wrongful death benefits.

However, DOHSA has strict guidelines on when family members can file claims, as well as which family members are eligible.

Four Things to Consider Before Filing a DOHSA Claim

  1. Where the death occurred. To receive DOHSA benefits, a family member must die aboard a vessel on open sea, three miles or more from a state’s nautical shore.
  2. The decedent’s role on the vessel. The decedent must be a seaman who is employed on the vessel. He or she does not need to be on-duty at the time of the accident.
  3. The only people who can benefit from DOHSA are the spouse, parents, children and other dependents. The executor or administrator of the decedent’s estate must be the one who files the DOHSA claim.
  4. The potential beneficiaries of a DOHSA claim must be able to show that negligence or unseaworthiness of a vessel were the cause of the seaman’s death.

The death of your loved one may not fall under DOHSA. But that does not mean you do not have other options. Discuss your case with a qualified maritime attorney to see whether you might be able to be compensated through things like the Jones Act, the Harbor Worker and Longshoreman’s Act or another potential legal avenue.


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