Death on the High Seas Act

The Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) provides recovery for the death of any person "caused by wrongful act, neglect or default occurring on the high seas beyond a marine league (3 miles) from the shore of any state." A DOHSA claim can only be brought by the personal representative of the deceased on behalf of the decedent's spouse, children, or other financially dependent relative.

DOHSA damages are calculated based upon the value of the financial benefit that would have been received by the relative from the decedent. Dependent children may recover the value of the care and guidance that they would have received from the decedent parent. A surviving spouse can recover the actual value of the financial contribution a decedent would have made to the family, had he lived, subtracting any amount that would have gone toward maintaining the decedent himself.

The act does not allow for a loss of consortium claim. However, spouses can recover the monetary value of any household services the decedent would have provided throughout the remainder of his life. This is calculated using the number of anticipated hours of service the decedent would have provided multiplied by an hourly rate for those services.

DOHSA includes commercial aviation accidents beyond 12 nautical miles from the shores of the United States. This section of the act was amended in 2000 to provide for recovery of damages for loss of care, comfort and companionship.

General aviation accidents on the high seas involving corporate aircraft and privately owned aircraft are excluded. Helicopter flights over water that do not involve compensation or hire are not covered by the amended DOHSA. Similarly, public-use aircraft accidents and military aircraft accidents are still subject to the limitations of the 80-year-old Death on the High Seas Act, whereby only pecuniary damages can be recovered.

DOHSA does not apply to offshore drilling rigs. These are governed by the Outer Continental Shelf Act and supplemented by the law of the adjacent state.

The law of maritime wrongful death claims is particularly complicated. Hiring an experienced maritime attorney is essential. If you have lost a loved one due to a death on the waters, please contact the attorneys at the Cochran Firm today to arrange a consultation.