Florida maritime death claim remedies for non-seamen vary depending upon whether the death occurred in territorial waters or the high seas.
Deaths Occurring on Territorial Waters
Territorial waters are generally considered as rivers, bays, lagoons, estuaries and nearshore. Florida declares a territorial sea nine miles off its Gulf coast and the farther of three miles off its Atlantic coast or to the western edge of the Gulf Stream. See, Fla. Const., Art. II, Sec. 1. The United States declares a twelve-mile territorial sea. See, Proclamation No. 5928. Deaths which occur in territorial waters are governed by Federal maritime common law and supplemented by Florida’s wrongful death statute.
Federal Maritime Remedies
Maritime law provides a claim against a tortfeasor for a death occurring on territorial waters or for negligent acts occurring on territorial waters resulting in a death on land. See, Moragne v. States Marine Lines, Inc., 398 U.S. 375 (1970). Four years after the landmark Morange opinion, the Supreme Court in Sea-Land Services Inc. v. Gaudet, 414 U.S. 573 (1974) acknowledged that a spouse, parent and child could claim economic remedies for such deaths which include funeral expenses, loss of financial support, value of lost services, value of probably inheritance, and for surviving children, loss of nurture, guidance, support and training.
Maritime law also recognizes a survival cause of action for territorial waters deaths the estate to recover pre-death pain and suffering remedies. See, Sutton v. Earles, 26 F. 3d 903 (9th Cir. 1994); Kuntz v. Windjammer Barefoot Cruises, 738 F.2d 426 (3d Cir. 1984); Cantore v. Blue Lagoon Water Sports, Inc., 799 F. Supp. 1151 (S.D. Fla. 1992).
Florida State Remedies
Twenty-six years after Moragne the Supreme Court in Yamaha Motor Corp. v. Calhoun, 516 U.S. 199 (1996) analyzed the practice of applying state wrongful death and survival statutes in maritime death cases occurring in territorial waters. Applying the tenor of Moragne which “centered on the extension of relief, not on the contraction of remedies,” the Supreme Court determined that state statutory law can provide greater remedies than provided by general maritime law to deaths occurring on territorial waters.
Florida’s wrongful death statute provides a decedent’s estate where the death is caused by the wrongful act or negligence of another. Although the lawsuit is brought by the estate’s personal representative, it is brought on behalf of the surviving family members which include the spouse, children and parents. The remedies provided under Florida’s wrongful death statute mirrors the economic remedies provided under Moragne with some important differences. Under Florida’s wrongful death statutes, parents are also entitled to claim mental and emotional pain and suffering due to the loss of a child. Furthermore, spouses and children may claim damages for loss of companionship for the death of a loved one.
Death Occurring on the High Seas
The term “high seas” has routinely been defined as waters beyond a country’s territorial sea. See, United States v Louisiana, 394 U.S. 11 (1969). See also, Convention on the High Seas, Sept. 30, 1962, art. 1, 13 U.S.T. 2312 (“The term ‘high seas’ means all parts of the sea that are not included in the territorial sea or in the internal waters of a [country]”).
Death on the High Seas Act
The Federal Death on the High Seas Act provides the exclusive remedy for non-seamen who die on the high seas or from negligence occurring on the high seas. Given that the Act is the exclusive remedy, it cannot be supplemented by remedies provided under general maritime law or Florida’s wrongful death statute. The Act only allows recovery for economic damages. As such, no damages for the decedent’s pre-death pain and suffering or lost wages are recoverable. Also, family members cannot seek damages for mental anguish or loss of companionship caused by death.
As shown, the location of the death or the location of the negligence which caused the death is very important in analyzing what remedies are available to the family who suffered a loss. Great care should be given to pinpointing the exact location of these events when bringing a Florida maritime death claim.