Wrongful Death at Sea

By law, a wrongful death is defined as one that is due to the actions of someone else. It is typically not intentional. Defective equipment supplied by an employer or a co-worker’s accident may cause a fatal injury. Wrongful death is covered under the Death on the High Seas Act (DOSHA), which applies only if the incident occurs three nautical miles from shore or farther.

Claims can be filed by the decedent’s spouse, even if the relationship is common law; children either by blood or by marriage; parents; and siblings. A three-year statute of limitations applies under the DOSHA; any longer than that and a claim for an incident (even that involving a death) cannot be compensated for.

How Claims Work

Deaths caused by neglect or wrongful acts on the high seas can be the subject of claims. The amount and apportion of a recovery depends on what the court decides. Even if the individual who was killed in the accident was somehow negligent, which led to the accident, that doesn’t mean damages cannot be recovered. The Act doesn’t only cover deaths that occur on boats. It also includes aviation-related deaths. Commercial aviation accidents that happen more than 12 miles from the U.S. coast that result in fatalities are covered, but nonpecuniary damages are the only recoveries possible.

Damages for Wrongful Deaths at Sea

Similar to land-based laws, the Act calls for damages based on financial benefits. These include what a decedent would have had, such as what a dependent would have received from the deceased person over their life, a loss of services around the home, and loss of finances related to inheritance, including the monetary value over the anticipated life expectancy of the deceased person. Pain and suffering and funeral costs can be included as well.

The law, however, only applies to incidents that occur at sea. The DOSHA does not take effect for incidents that occur on bodies of water within state boundaries, or on the Great Lakes.

About the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA)

The LHWCA mainly applies to injured employees, providing benefits such as financial compensation for weekly pay, medical expenses, and lost wages. It also provides death benefits to spouses and children. They can be entitled to benefits calculated based on the decedent’s weekly wage, which must be as much as the national average when the worker died, as determined by the U.S. Department of Labor. Benefits are distributed based on a pre-determined formula for widows/widowers, those with one child, more than one child, and who much a child would receive.

This Act also covers reasonable funeral expenses. A dependent such as a parent, grandparent, brother/sister, or grandchild can also receive benefits. To file for these, a survivor must submit a claim within a year of the employee’s death. The provisions of each law should, therefore, be analyzed to determine the outcome of a wrongful death at sea case.

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