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Commercial Fishermen Wrongful Death and Survival Claims under the Death on the High Seas Act

It is common knowledge that commercial fishing is the most dangerous and deadly job in the United States. Thankfully maritime law provides benefits to those who lost a loved one while working the sea.

Fishing Boats.jpgWe recently posted an article discussing commercial fishermen wrongful death and survival claims which can be brought against their employer under the Jones Act. As the article explained, the Jones Act applies to commercial fishermen wrongful deaths occurring upon inland waterways or within 3 nautical miles from shore. But what happens if an accident occurs beyond 3 nautical miles? Maritime law provides an entirely different statute for such claims.

Death on the High Seas Act

The Death on the High Seas Act (“DOHSA”) applies to all maritime deaths resulting from accidents occurring beyond 3 nautical miles from shore. Unlike most wrongful death statutes, DOHSA applies to the actual site of the accident, not where the death actually occurs or where the wrongful act causing the accident may have originated. Thus, if an accident occurs beyond 3 nautical miles from shore, but the fisherman ultimately dies within 3 nautical miles or even in a hospital on shore, DOHSA applies.

Unlike the Jones Act, which only allows for the fishermen’s employer to be sued, DOHSA allows an estate or family member to sue any responsible party. This may be the fisherman’s employer, but also the boat owner (if different than his employer), vessel manufacturer, equipment installer/manufacturer, the captain of another boat if the death resulted from a collision and any other person, company or government who contributed to the accident which resulted in the death.

Like most maritime claims, DOHSA lawsuits must be brought within 3 years from the date of the accident and can be brought either in state or federal court. Though DOHSA does not provide a right to a jury, a jury can be requested if the case is brought in state court or in federal court if diversity jurisdiction is avilable.

Damages under DOHSA

Unlike the Jones Act where a survival claim can seek non-pecuniary damages, DOHSA claims are limited to only pecuniary damages such as:

  • Loss of Support;
  • Loss of Services;
  • Loss of Nurture, Guidance and Care to Minor Children;
  • Funeral Expenses; and,
  • Loss of Inheritance.

(For a more detailed discussion between pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages, see our article entitled Commercial Fishermen Wrongful Death and Survival Claims under the Jones Act)