Death on the High Seas Act

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 Death on the High Seas Act

Death is said to be wrongful if it happens due to someone else’s or something else’s carelessness. The Death on the High Seas Act allows a person’s family to get compensation when they pass away at sea (DOHSA).

The Death on the High Seas Act: What Is It?

The DOHSA enables a person to receive compensation for a death brought on by carelessness, error, or intentional misconduct. This unlawful act must occur on the high seas at least three miles from land in any state.

Is It Possible to Recover Damages for a Death at Sea?

No. The victim’s parents, spouse, or children cannot file a DOHSA claim without the assistance of the deceased’s personal representative.

What is an Action for Wrongful Death?

A family member of a deceased victim may file a wrongful death action against the person who was responsible for their death. Although the laws of each state differ regarding who can initiate a lawsuit, it is typically an immediate family member of the deceased (such as a spouse or parent) who does so.

Not only can businesses, governments, and other types of organizations be sued in a wrongful death case, but also specific people.

The burden of proof for wrongful death claims is lower than in criminal trials because they are civil matters. In other words, winning a wrongful death claim is far simpler than getting convicted in a criminal case.

However, criminal prosecutions and wrongful death cases are not incompatible with one another. A person may be tried in a criminal law court and sued in a civil law court for wrongful death. If both circumstances exist, a civil lawsuit is often filed after the criminal case is over.

What Components Make Up a Wrongful Death Claim?

In a wrongful death lawsuit, the surviving family members make a claim on the victim’s behalf that effectively claims that the defendant’s actions caused the victim to pass away.

The survivors must prove the following components present to succeed with a claim for wrongful death:

  • That the defendant was strictly liable for the victim’s death;
  • That the defendant willfully, recklessly, or carelessly caused the victim’s death;
  • That the defendant caused the victim’s death;
  • That beneficiaries or dependents survived the victim; and
  • Any surviving beneficiaries or dependents have suffered financial losses as a result of the victim’s death.

Who May File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

As was already established, wrongful death lawsuits are typically only allowed to be filed by the deceased person’s immediate relatives (the “decedent”). Although it varies by state, this usually only applies to the victim’s surviving spouse, kids, and parents.

Generally speaking, the following parties file wrongful death claims:

  • Dependent parents (i.e., the parent who resided with the deceased and relied on the deceased for the majority or all financial support);
  • Surviving spouses;
  • Children of the decedent;
  • Personal representatives or designated heirs;
  • Putative spouses (i.e., a surviving spouse whose marriage to the deceased was not valid, but a court could find that the spouse had a good faith belief that their marriage was valid); Domestic partners (note that the domestic partnership must be registered with the state where the partners live and now extends to all types of couples, not just same-sex couples); and
  • Minors (aside from their biological or adoptive children) who were living with the deceased

What is a Personal Representative?

Typically, a personal representative serves as the will’s executor. An executor is a person chosen to oversee the distribution of a person’s estate after their passing.

How are DOHSA Damages Determined?

According to the amount of money the family would have made from the person had they not perished at sea, DOHSA damages are totaled.

For instance, dependent children are compensated for the care and instruction the victim would have provided them. Only the actual worth of the victim’s contributions to the family they would have made had they lived can be recovered by a surviving spouse or parent.

How Do I Bring a Lawsuit for Wrongful Death?

The “statute of limitations,” which designates the time period during which a person may file a wrongful death case, differs for each state. A surviving person will be barred from filing a wrongful death action in court if they wait longer than the permitted amount of time.

When the victim passes away, the statute of limitations generally begins to run and lasts for at least a year.

If you want to file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of a loved one, you should speak with a local lawyer to find out more about the deadlines for filing a wrongful death claim in your region.

Are DOHSA Claims the Same as Claims for Wrongful Death?

No. Depending on state legislation, a personal representative or an immediate family member may launch a wrongful death lawsuit. Loss of consortium may be compensated in a wrongful death case for the spouse. Under DOHSA, it is not possible to bring a claim for loss of consortium.

Does DOHSA Cover Commercial Aviation Accidents?

Yes. To be eligible for a DOHSA lawsuit, the commercial aviation accident, or plane crash, must take place at least 12 nautical miles from any American shoreline.

When Can You File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Each state has a statute of limitations that sets a deadline for filing a wrongful death claim, as was previously indicated. States like Wyoming and Maine permit up to four or six years, but California, Illinois, and Texas all have a two-year requirement; the District of Columbia and New York have a three-year requirement.

A judge may allow the statute of limitations to start running from the date of discovery in the case when the cause of death is not identified until much later. This is known as tolling the statute.

When Does the Statute of Limitations Start to Run?

The general rule is that the statute of limitations starts to run “when the plaintiff has a complete and present cause of action,” as the US Supreme Court has often stated.

In most circumstances, the statute of limitations begins when the damaging event, such as the crime or injury, occurs or when the plaintiff becomes aware of the damage, as in fraud cases.

If a lawsuit is filed after the statute of limitations has passed, the defendant will usually file a straightforward motion to dismiss the claim. Tolling the restrictions is the process of pausing the clock for a set period of time in some circumstances.

Several states provide tolling of the statute until the plaintiff achieves the majority age of 18, which is 18 in cases where the plaintiff is a minor, meaning they were under the age of 18 at the time.

Additionally, the statute of limitations may even be lowered or lengthened in private civil actions with the consent of both parties.

Should I Talk to an Attorney About DOHSA?

Yes. When attempting to submit a DOHSA claim, it helps to have legal representation because maritime law is quite complex. To discuss your DOHSA claim, contact a wrongful death lawyer in your area. Use LegalMatch to find the right lawyer for your needs today.

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