The Death on the High Seas Act was enacted by Congress in 1920, and provided recovery for the death of any person “caused by wrongful act, neglect or default occurring on the high seas beyond a marine league from the shore of any state.” A marine league consists of three miles from the shore of any state. Deaths occurring further from shore than three miles are covered under the Death on the High Seas Act.
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.
A claim under DOHSA can be founded on unseaworthiness and is brought against the vessel or the vessel owner. In contrast, the Jones Act covers any seaman who suffers personal injury or dies as a result of injuries sustained in the course of employment. The cause of action is against the seaman’s employer.
The law of maritime wrongful death claims is particularly complicated. Therefore, anyone who has lost a loved one due to a death on the waters should contact a maritime attorney.