When the death of an individual is caused by wrongful act on the high seas 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). The action shall be for the exclusive benefit of the decedent’s spouse, parent, child, or dependent relative.
The recovery in an action 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[i].
DOHSA adds a rule of survival to the remedy for wrongful death. It provides that if the person is directly injured as a result of a wrongful act on the high seas beyond a marine league from United States shores and has instituted an action to recover damages for that injury in an admiralty court, but dies during the pendency of the proceeding, his or her personal representative may be substituted and the suit may continue as one under the DOHSA. However, it has been noted that DOHSA is just a wrongful-death statute, the measure of damages just being the pecuniary loss suffered by the beneficiaries, but that a general maritime law survival action may supplement recovery under DOHSA and allow recovery for the decedent’s pre-death pain and suffering.
The Death on the High Seas Act does not preempt the separate and distinct remedy encompassed in state survival statutes.
[i] 46 USCS § 30303