When an individual dies outside of three nautical miles from the U.S. shore, any wrongful death action must be brought under DOHSA. However, DOHSA limits the type of damages that can be sought and only includes losses that are economic in nature, including the financial value or support the deceased offered to his or her surviving dependents and family members. However, it does not provide for non-economic damages like pain and suffering of the decedent’s loved ones, unlike Florida’s Wrongful Death statute or other similar state laws around the US. That is why it is critical you speak to a maritime wrongful death attorney who can provide guidance about the best course of action.
Moreover, DOHSA also does not necessarily provide for “survival” causes of action that allow a decedent’s family to recover for injuries they sustain on the high seas that are not the cause of their death, nor the pain and suffering caused during the event. Occasionally, these actions can be supplemented by other laws, including the Jones Act, which provides remedies for seamen who lose their lives during the course of their employment, but does not provide any remedies for injured passengers. Jones Act claims based on a seafarer’s wrongful death can only be brought by the personal representative of the estate and can only be brought against the deceased’s employer.
If the wrongful death occurs within the three nautical miles boundary, the decedent’s estate could have a cause of action under Florida’s wrongful death laws. Outside of that limit, these individuals are restricted to the remedies offered through DOHSA. However, the ability to to pursue a claim under Florida’s Wrongful Death Act is limited to claimants that are either children of the decedent’s below a certain age, the decedent’s spouse or a relative dependent on the decedent for financial support that can be proved with financial records in a court of law. Florida also limits the time an action can be commenced from the date of the decedent’s death to two years.
In contrast, DOHSA claims can be filed within three years from the date of death by DOHSA’s statute of limitations. However, some cruise ships claim their passenger tickets reduce this three-year statute of limitations to a one-year timeframe. It is important to read the fine print before pursuing a DOHSA claim, especially if the deceased was a cruise passenger.