Offshore Injury Cases Stemming From the Death on the High Seas Act

Offshore websize

There is a special statute that deals specifically with injury cases stemming from deaths that occur on the “high seas.” This statute is called the Death on the High Seas Act (“DOHSA”). Damages for these maritime injury cases include compensation for the “pecuniary” losses of:

  • Support
  • Service
  • Care
  • Nurture
  • Guidance
  • Training.

However, DOHSA does not include state law compensation for “nonpecuniary” damages such as grief, mental anguish, love, affection, consortium, society and companionship.

How do I know if a death occurred on the “high seas”?

One of the major problems with DOHSA is that it does not define the term “high seas.” For nearly 60 years, this term was interpreted to mean “beyond three miles from the shore” as this was the historical definition of the “high seas.” But in 1988, President Reagan issued a proclamation that extended the territorial seas of the United States from 3 to 12 miles. This has led to several courts defining the terms “high seas” differently- some believe DOHSA applies for deaths occurring over 3 miles, while others believe that it only applies to deaths more than 12 miles.

In effect, whether or not a death occurred on the “high seas” now depends on the part of the country it occurred. For example, if a death occurred on the East Coast, DOHSA would apply only if the death occurred more than 12 miles off the shore. But if the death occurred on the West Coast, DOHSA would apply if it occurred further than 3 miles off the shore.

For deaths that occur in the Gulf of Mexico, however, the question of what distance from shore triggers DOHSA is still up in the air. In other words, whether a person is entitled to all damages including “nonpecuniary” losses for a death that occurred in the Gulf between 3 and 12 miles from shore is an unanswered question.

If you or a loved one has suffered an offshore injury, learn about your legal rights from an experienced Louisiana maritime injury attorney by filling out our free, no obligation case review form located on this website.