The Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) and Aviation Accidents

Wrongful Death Lawyer in San Francisco, CA

The Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) was originally enacted in 1920 for the purpose of providing a wrongful death cause of action for those killed in maritime accidents. This first version made provisions for financial recovery for the wrongful death of any person who was killed three miles or more off the shore of any state. In 1988, this changed to include accidents as far as 12 nautical miles off the coast.

Although DOHSA was created as a response to shipping accidents occurring on vessels on the high seas, its wording is broad enough to include any accident that occurs in international waters, and has been consistently applied to deaths resulting from aviation accidents since the 1940s.

Under DOHSA:

  • The only family members who are entitled to financial compensation are the spouse, children, parent, or other financially dependent relative of the deceased.
  • Family members of the deceased are not allowed to sue individually, but a court-appointed representative may sue on the family’s behalf.
  • DOHSA did not originally provide families with the usual damages they might receive in a wrongful death case, and only covered pecuniary damages (in other words, damages that can be precisely measured, like lost wages or funeral expenses). Unfortunately, the act did not provide for loss of consortium claims, loss of emotional comfort and support claims, or the pre-accident pain and suffering of the deceased.

Controversy during the 1990s regarding the unfairness of the pecuniary loss limitation led to the amendment of the act in 2000. Now, this limitation no longer applies to commercial aviation accident cases, and families can now collect not only pecuniary damages, but for the loss of comfort, care, and companionship. Note that the pecuniary loss limitation does still apply to non-commercial aircraft and helicopters, including general aviation planes and helicopters and military aircraft lost at sea.

Solid Representation after an Aviation Accident

Aviation law is a complicated matter best left in the hands of experienced legal professionals. The wrongful death lawyers at Scarlett Law Group stand ready to assist families who have suffered emotional and financial losses as the result of losing a family member in an aviation accident. Our firm retains a number of qualified experts who can help prove liability and damages to help bring you a just amount of compensation for your loss.

To get started, please contact our San Francisco law firm at (415) 688-2176.

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