What is the Death on the High Seas Act? 

 September 30, 2013

By  LMW Attorneys

The Death on the High Seas Act was passed by Congress in 1920 as a way for families to receive damages for seamen killed in international waters. The initial law limited damages to spouses, children and dependent family members of the deceased seaman. The act has been amended over the years and now encompasses spouses, children, parents and dependent family members.

Certain criteria must be met in order for family members to receive compensation. First, evidence must be present to indicate that a wrongful death is a direct result from negligence. Next, the maritime accident must occur 3 or more miles beyond United States shores. This includes shores of any United States state, territory, dependency or the District of Columbia.

The act includes any maritime accident that results in wrongful death, such as vessel sinking, cruise-ship accidents or recreational vehicle accidents. Damages are limited to pecuniary damages. Survivors are not eligible for damages associated with loss of love and affection or loss of society.

The Death on the High Seas Act has also been amended to cover deaths that result from airline accidents occurring over open water that lies beyond a 12 nautical mile territorial limit of US coast lines. Legal cases are filed against the liable person, vessel or corporation responsible for the resulting death.

Maritime law offers protection for seamen, sailors, passengers, and merchant marines. There are many laws that are similar to the Death on the High Seas Act, such as the Jones Act and the Long Shore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. These acts can cause confusion among people who are not well-versed in maritime law.

As a result, many relatives find it helpful to seek the services of a lawyer with extensive knowledge of maritime law. These professionals are often invaluable to family members seeking compensation for the loss of a loved one on the high seas.