Death on the High Seas Act DOHSA

It happens:  Seamen and passengers are killed on the high seas all too often.

Countless times the families of deceased seamen come to our firm and they are grieving and floundering in a sea of confusion and pain.  They don’t know where to go or even where to start.  The families often don’t understand ships and the maritime world and certainly don’t understand the complex and competing laws in death cases.

When the families of deceased seamen do reach our office door, we help them navigate the maze of complex and highly technical laws to get fair and complete compensation.

The Death on the High Seas Act allows the survivors of a seaman killed in international waters to sue the victim’s employer for damages in the event of wrongful death caused by negligence or unseaworthiness.


When a seafarer is killed on the High Seas, the Death on the High Seas Act “DOHSA” applies.

46 U.S.C. § 30302 applies and states in part:

“When death of an individual is caused by wrongful act, neglect, or default occurring on the high seas beyond 3 nautical miles from shore of the United States, the personal representative of the decedent may bring a civil action in admiralty against the person or vessel responsible.  The action shall be for the exclusive benefit of the decedent’s spouse, parent, child or dependent relative.”

DOHSA Beneficiaries (The Parties)

DOHSA actions can be brought only by a decedent’s personal representative, for the exclusive benefit of the decedent’s:

Absent a showing of a conflict of interest between the decedent’s personal representative and a beneficiary, the authority to control the prosecution of an action for maritime death and the settlement of the claims remain solely with the personal representative.  There is no right to separate suits for the beneficiaries.

Unlike the Jones Act the existence of a spouse, parent, or child does not cut off the right of the estate’s personal representative to recover for a dependent relative’s pecuniary loss.  Spouses, children and parents need not prove dependency to recover.  Any other relative must prove dependency.

Only the personal representative (not beneficiaries) may settle and release claims.

DOHSA Damages

DOHSA damages are limited to pecuniary (money) losses of the persons for whose benefit the suit is brought.  In general, the amount of recovery is the actual pecuniary benefits the beneficiaries could reasonably have expected to have received from the continued life of the decedent.

There can be no recovery under DOHSA for loss of society, loss of love and affection, loss of companionship, loss of consortium, or mental anguish.

Allowed pecuniary losses include:

Wrongful Acts Under DOHSA

The place of the injury from a wrongful act, rather than the place of death determines whether DOHSA is applicable. 

Wrongful acts included under DOHSA:

Although the Death on the High Seas Act resembles Jones Act provisions about employers’ negligence and vessels’ states of unseaworthiness, its scope is not limited to providing legal remedy to seamen. The DOHSA coverage of legal remedy rights is granted to two groups:

If you are the family member of a seaman or passenger who was killed at sea call us for a free consultation regarding your legal rights.  The laws in this area are complex and confusing and we will help the personal representative and dependents of a deceased killed on the high seas to determine how they should be compensated.

Admiralty, Maritime and Boating Accident Specialists

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