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Death on the High Seas Act

The Death of the High Seas Act is defined in U.S. Code Title 46 as it deals with instances of death on the high seas for seamen so that families may recover damages when the death results from either negligence by the sea vessel owner or the unseaworthiness of the vessel. It has since been expanded to include airline crashes that occur over the high seas.

While a wrongful death claim won’t bring back the person who died, it can make life easier for the surviving family. You may need the claim to pay for living expenses as well as final expenses of the deceased. You deserve to be compensated if you lost a spouse, parent or another family member due to negligence while they were working as a maritime worker. However, this situation can be complicated, which is why it is necessary to hire a maritime attorney to fight for your right to receive compensation and ease the burden you are now placed under. Contact us if you want to find out if your loved one’s death qualifies under this act.

Application of the Act

For this act to be relevant, maritime law must apply to the location. In other words, a sea vessel must be located in navigable waters and the incident must have a relationship to maritime activity. In addition, the death of your loved one must have been caused by negligence or unseaworthiness rather than an unrelated event.

An example would be if the vessel caught fire and maritime workers were killed due to an explosion. While an investigation would be conducted to ensure the two events were related, it would be natural to assume that the person’s death was caused by the explosion. However, if there was a fire onboard the vessel and your family member suffered a heart attack and died, it is not necessarily the fire that caused the death. An investigation would have to ensue to determine the actual cause of the heart attack.

Restrictions of the Act

The death must occur beyond three miles from shore unless it is an aviation incident. In this case, the accident must occur more than 12 nautical miles from shore. The claim must be for the surviving spouse, child, parent or another dependent relative.  The amount to be awarded is defined as fair compensation, which shall be determined by the court. When multiple victims are involved, the court will disperse the amount in proportion to the loss sustained by each.

If the deceased bore any liability in the accident, the percentage of liability will reduce the amount awarded. However, it does not prevent you from receiving compensation. Section 30305 allows for the case of a current lawsuit for an injury due to negligence to be altered to a wrongful death suit if the person dies while the case is pending.

Another difference between aviation and traditional sea vessel accidents is the types of damages that may be claimed. You may receive nonpecuniary damages, which means the loss of companionship, care or comfort as stated within this section. However, the plaintiff may not seek punitive damages.

The Death on the High Seas Act was enacted to give families of maritime workers the benefit of compensation for the loss of income as well as the loss of a family member in an accident where negligence was involved.

Death on the High Seas Act
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