Maritime Accidents

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The Death on the High Seas Act

It is a tragedy when a seaman dies while he is working. The seaman's surviving family members are emotionally devastated and may also be concerned about accountability for the death and replacing the money that the seaman was contributing to the family. The parent, child or spouse of a seaman who has been killed because of his employer's negligence of because the vessel on which he worked was unseaworthy may be able to recover under the Death on the High Seas Act.

Which Seaman Fatalities are Covered by the Death on the High Seas Act?

In order for a family to recover under this Act, certain requirements must be met. First, the seaman's death must have occurred on the high seas. The "high seas" is defined as at least 3 nautical miles off of the coast of any state. Second, the death must have been caused by the employer's negligence or because the vessel was unseaworthy. For example, if the ship was not properly maintained, if the navigation or other equipment failed, if the employer failed to have appropriate safety equipment on board or if the vessel was understaffed and a seaman died as a result of one of those factors then the seaman's parent, child or spouse might be able to recover damages. The damages available to the family of a deceased seaman are limited to the lost wages that the seaman's death caused the family. Typically, the lost wages are based on the seaman's current earnings and life expectancy. Finally, a seaman's family must bring a lawsuit within three years of the seaman's death in order to recover damages.

Aviation Accidents

The Death on the High Seas Act also applies to aviation accidents that occur at least three miles off of the coast of the United States. In cases of commercial aviation accidents, family members may recover for loss of companionship, care and consortium in addition to lost wages. This amendment was made to the Death on the High Seas Act to account for the death of children who might be traveling on commercial aircraft.

Death on the High Seas is always a tragedy. Seamen engage in difficult and dangerous work. If they die in the course of their work then their surviving family members are entitled to compensation. Similarly, if death is caused by an aviation accident over the high seas then family members may be entitled to financial damages for the loss of their loved ones.

Longshore & Harbor Workers Compensation Act (LHWCA)

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Defense Base Act
The Frequently Asked Questions

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