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What should I know about the Death on the High Seas Act?

Discover more about the Death on the High Seas Act. Learn if you can make a claim.

Working in the maritime industry means a person is often subject to different rules and laws than people working in other industries. One example is if a person dies while working on a vessel. In this situation, the family will collect benefits under the Death on the High Seas Act.


Marine Insight explains the DOHSA became law in 1920. The idea behind it was to provide financial compensation to families whose loved ones died while working within the maritime industry.

Originally, it only paid reimbursement costs to families associated with the death while out on the water, but it changed over time to include other benefits. Families can make claims for the loss, suffering and expenses due to the death. The payment for the loss will usually depend on how much the loss impacts the family financially.


According to the U.S. House of Representatives, the DOHSA covers any death within three miles of the US shoreline. To allow for a claim, the company for which the person worked must have charges against it for negligence or illegal activity that led to the death.


To make a claim, families will need to file before the end of the time limit. The limit differs for each state but runs from one to three years. It is a good idea for a family to make their claim as soon as possible to avoid any issues.

The only people who can make a claim are close relatives. Generally, this means next of kin as defined by the law. It should be someone who will suffer financially from the loss of the maritime worker.

A family cannot file alone. The court appoints a nominee who will handle the claims process, including filing the required paperwork.


The potential damages a family may recover only must be fair, according to the law. Fair compensation may include payments for pain and suffering. They would include any expenses relating to the death and final costs for the deceased. Other expenses deemed fit by the court will also be allowable.

The court must disburse the damages among family members making the claim according to their loss. For example, a spouse who relied on the deceased person’s income would get a larger portion of an award than a parent whose loss is more emotional.

Claims under the DOHSA can be complex because of the rules and details of how this law works. It can be helpful for families to seek the assistance of an attorney working in maritime law, such as The Townsley Law Firm.