Does the Death on the High Seas Act Apply to Cruise Ships?

Accidents on cruise ships are common, and they cause injuries to numerous passengers every year. These incidents rarely lead to loss of life, but fatal accidents do happen. However, they are not covered by the same Florida wrongful death laws that would apply if the fatality occurred on land. Instead, the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) governs the legal process. Once a cruise ship travels beyond three nautical miles from the shore of the US, DOHSA is the statute that provides victims with legal remedies. 

DOHSA was originally intended to protect workers at sea by allowing family members to seek compensation after the employee’s death. The law does apply to fatal accidents on cruise ships, so it is critical to get help with your remedies if your family is affected. A Miami cruise ship accident lawyer will assist with all legal requirements, but you can read on for some background about DOHSA.

Overview of DOHSA

This statute states that family members can seek compensation when the death of their loved one occurs because of a wrongful act or neglect. It only applies in international waters, so the location of the cruise ship at the time of an accident or incident is critical. To recover compensation, family members must prove that:

  • The cruise ship’s operator did not exercise reasonable care to ensure the safety of passengers; or,
  • The vessel itself was not seaworthy, an indication that the cruise line did not exercise proper care in maintaining the ship.

Standing Under DOHSA

The law is specific on who has the authority to sue for damages, otherwise known as having standing to take legal action. DOHSA requires the personal representative of the deceased victim’s estate to bring a civil action. This could be someone named as executor in a will, but a probate court will appoint a personal representative for an individual without a will.

Damages for Surviving Family Members

The personal representative acts on behalf of the beneficiaries who are entitled to the proceeds of the DOHSA lawsuit. Those who may receive compensation include the surviving spouse, parent, child, or a relative who depended upon the decedent. Under the statute, you can recover:

  • Funeral and burial expenses;
  • Loss of financial contributions the deceased victim would have provided; and,
  • Lost inheritance from the decedent’s death.

Notably, you cannot recover any amounts for noneconomic damages. These are the losses that affect the quality of life, such as pain and suffering. Unfortunately, DOHSA may be the only legal remedy available in some fatal cruise ship accident cases. 

Consult a Miami Cruise Ship Accident Attorney for Details

DOHSA may not offer the full range of damages you expect in a wrongful death case, but at least you have recourse to recover for certain losses. To learn more about the legal process, please contact Gerson & Schwartz, PA. We can set up a no-cost case review at our offices in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, or West Palm Beach, FL.

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