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Death Claims

When a loved one has died or is lost at sea it is a difficult time of your life but Leeward Law is here to help you first and foremost. Before you even have time to grieve or process what is happening, a government investigation will most likely be underway and vessel owners and operators will move quickly to limit their liability, having appointed surveyors and investigators to shore up their defense. You should contact an experienced maritime attorney to appoint non-company persons to conduct a fair and accurate assessment of what transpired. 

When the time comes, there are multiple remedies under maritime law for wrongful death claims. In general terms, there are “wrongful death” remedies and “survival” remedies. Wrongful death remedies allow surviving relatives and dependents of persons who die as a result of maritime casualties, through the representative of the decedent’s estate to their own pecuniary losses. Survival causes of action recognize the right of the representative of the estate to recover on behalf of the estate the damages the decedent would have been entitled, but for his or her death.

The Death on the High Seas Act (“DOSHA”) is one “wrongful death” remedy you may have when a loved one has passed away while at sea. DOSHA is a federal statute that enables family members to recover for the wrongful death of a loved one that occurred more than three nautical miles offshore and was caused by the negligence or unseaworthiness of a vessel. A decedent includes any person whose death was caused on the high seas, including passengers or crew members of vessels, or even the crews or passengers of aircraft crashing on high seas, if the cause of the death was a “maritime tort”.


​DOSHA allows the decedent’s family members (spouse, parent, child, or dependent relative) to each recover their own pecuniary losses. Spouses, parents and children do not need to show dependency. What is merely required is that the recovery must bear some relationship to the evidence presented.  Pecuniary losses which are allowed to be recovered include: 

  • Nurture to Children: value of care, guidance and moral, intellectual and physical training of children until they reach the age of majority.

  • Support and Contributions: value of the financial contributions that the decedent would have made to his or her dependents had the decedent lived. This can include payments into a savings or investment account for dependents, payments for schooling or college, cell phone bills, car payments, mortgages, weddings, etc. 

  • Funeral Expenses: only if the expenses are the responsibility of the beneficiaries.

  • Loss of Services: the monetary value of services the deceased would have provided to the beneficiaries around home, such as: landscaping, home repair, home maintenance, food shopping, meal preparation, laundry, etc. 

Survival remedies depend on whether the decedent is a seaman or passenger. The Jones Act is the exclusive “survival” remedy for seaman and allows the representative of the seaman’s estate to recover damages for the decedent had he or she lived. Damages which may be recovered by the estate include loss of current and future wages, loss of nurture and guidance to minor children, and pre-death pain and suffering. 


If a passenger of a vessel dies at sea, general maritime law may supplement DOHSA “wrongful death” remedies for deaths on the high seas and within the territorial waters of any State (three nautical miles). The importance of the distinction is that some elements of damages for wrongful death recognized by the general maritime law such as for pre-death pain and suffering, loss of love and affection and loss of society may be subject of awards for death occurring in territorial waters, but not on the high seas.

The remedies available to decedents and their families are found within a web of federal statutes and maritime laws. Even the most seasoned land-based attorney has most likely never dealt with a maritime wrongful death claim. Leeward Law has experience handling maritime wrongful death claims to advantageous settlements.


If you've had a loved one pass away at sea you should call an experienced maritime attorney at Leeward Law for a free consultation. Leeward Law is here for you.

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