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If your loved one has died on the high seas, you may have a claim for damages. The team of personal injury attorneys at the Johns Law Firm has extensive experience handling maritime claims. And more specifically, we understand how the Death on the High Seas Act might apply to your personal injury case. Read on to learn more about the Death on the High Seas Act and find out how we can help you.  

What Is the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA)?

Congress passed the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) in 1920. This Act provides important remedies for family members of those who die at sea. Importantly, the Act allows family members of offshore workers, seamen, and other maritime workers to recover if their loved ones pass away.

Specifically, DOHSA allows for civil recovery of damages when the “death of an individual is caused by wrongful act, neglect, or default on the high seas beyond 3 nautical miles from the shore of the United States.” (46 U.S. Code § 30302.) 

However, not all family members can bring an action under DOHSA. The remedies provided for in DOHSA are reserved exclusively for the decedent’s spouse, parent, child, or dependant relative. 

What Qualifies as Damages Under DOHSA?

DOHSA provides that the recovery “shall be a fair compensation for the pecuniary loss sustained” by the decedent’s relatives. Pecuniary damages are those that have a quantifiable monetary value that can be definitively ascertained. 

Thus, you can recover only for your “pecuniary damages” that arise out of your family member’s death. For this reason, it is important to understand what these damages look like. Examples of pecuniary damages that might exist in a DOHSA claim include the following: 

  • Loss of inheritance;
  • Counseling expenses;
  • Loss of financial support or wages of the decedent; and 
  • Funeral expenses (if paid for by a family member, rather than the decedent’s estate).

However, it is important to note that not all pecuniary damages are recoverable under DOHSA. For example, DOHSA does not allow recovery of damages suffered by the decedent whose death is at issue. This means that things like the decedent’s pre-death medical expenses or funeral expenses paid for by the decedent’s estate will generally not qualify as damages under DOHSA. 

Non-pecuniary damages are also not recoverable under DOHSA. Examples of non-pecuniary damages include:

  • The decedent’s pre-death pain and suffering; 
  • Pain and suffering of the decedent’s family members; and 
  • Loss of consortium experienced by the decedent’s spouse.

Understanding what constitutes damages under DOHSA can help you maximize your recovery. The team at the Johns Law Firm will fight for you to help you do just that. 

How Our Firm Can Help

If your loved one has died due to a wrongful or negligent act while at sea, you may be entitled to damages. The Johns Law Firm has the knowledge and experience necessary to fight for your claim, and we want to help. Contact us today for a free consultation and to discuss how we can help you maximize your recovery. 

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Jeremiah Johns

Jeremiah N. Johns is a trial attorney who represents clients in insurance, maritime, personal injury, and litigation matters. Raised on a family farm in Southeast Georgia, at an early age he gained an appreciation for hard work and ingenuity. These values form the bedrock of his practice.​ Jeremiah holds an LL.M. in Admiralty from Tulane Law School and a J.D. from Syracuse University, where he graduated with honors. He also graduated magna cum laude with bachelor degrees in political science and economics from Georgia State University.