When the death of an individual is caused by wrongful act, neglect, or default occurring on the high seas beyond three nautical miles from the shore of the United States, the personal representative of the decedent may bring a civil action in admiralty against the person or vessel responsible under the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA)[i]. The action shall be for the exclusive benefit of the decedent’s spouse, parent, child, or dependent relative. However, this does not affect the law of a State regulating the right to recover for death. Further, this Act does not apply to the Great Lakes or waters within the territorial limits of a State.
The recovery in an action under the Act shall be a fair compensation for the pecuniary loss sustained by the individuals for whose benefit the action is brought. The court shall apportion the recovery among those individuals in proportion to the loss each has sustained[ii]. In cases presenting factual situations to which both Jones Act and DOHSA are applicable, the Jones Act does not preclude an action under the DOHSA. Thus, in an action for wrongful death of a crew member, a personal representative can bring a general maritime action for wrongful death, or an action under the Jones Act or Death on the High Seas Act, and is not required to make an election among theories of recovery.
The DOHSA is general in its application and is not essentially a seaman’s act, whereas the Jones Act relates to seamen only and gives them a right of action wherever death occurs in an appropriate admiralty jurisdiction.
[i] 46 USCS § 30302
[ii]46 USCS § 30303