Death On The High Seas Act: Facts For Victims Of Maritime Accidents
Seamen who work on fishing boats, container ships, oil tankers, and other commercial vessels endure extremely dangerous employment conditions, so they are exposed to a high risk of bodily harm. As a result, there are special US and California laws that cover injured workers and provide financial support during difficult times. One federal statute applies in situations where an employee is killed because of a maritime accident: The Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA). This law was passed in 1920 to protect employees who die in an accident beyond US territorial waters, i.e., more than three nautical miles off the coast.
From this description, DOHSA seems similar to workers’ compensation. However, there are key differences you need to know if you lost a loved one. It is smart to trust an Oakland maritime accidents attorney who can assist with the process, assess evidence, and develop an appropriate strategy. There are also some facts that will help you understand DOHSA claims.
Who Qualifies Under DOHSA
Only certain individuals are eligible to recover amounts under the statute, including:
- The surviving spouse;
- Parents; and,
- Any family members who were dependent upon the deceased victim for support.
DOHSA is strict on who can pursue a claim and obtain benefits, so there is no flexibility for individuals outside these relationships. For instance, the surviving spouse, biological or adopted child, or siblings that rely on the victim could qualify for benefits. A domestic partner and his or her child would not.
Though not an eligibility rule for individuals, keep in mind that DOHSA establishes a three-year statute of limitations within which you must file a lawsuit.
Benefits for Surviving Family Members
In a successful claim under DOHSA, it is possible to recover for:
- The deceased maritime worker’s funeral and burial costs;
- Medical expenses incurred from the time of the accident to the date of death;
- Losses related to current and future financial support; and,
- Other costs linked to the fatal accident.
Proving a DOHSA Claim
One major distinction that separates these cases from claims under workers’ comp and other maritime accident laws is fault: When seeking remedies under DOHSA, you must prove that the vessel was unseaworthy or the employer was negligent in some way. Negligence is defined as breach of the duty to exercise reasonable care when operating the vessel, managing employees, and running the business. In maritime accidents, negligence can lead to:
- A vessel sinking, capsizing, or running aground;
- Fires and explosions on board;
- Falling cargo and objects; and,
- A maritime employee going overboard due to a lack of PFDs, straps, harnesses, and other protective gear.
Discuss Your Options with an Oakland Maritime Accident Lawyer
DOHSA is one of multiple remedies available to injured workers, but the key to understanding your options is the context of the employment relationship. If you lost a loved one in a fatal maritime accident, Venardi Zurada, LLP will guide you through the process. Please contact us today to schedule a free consultation at our offices in Oakland or Walnut Creek, CA.