Maritime Wrongful Death

One of the unfortunate risks that come along with maritime work is that death while on the job is a real possibility. However, there are numerous deaths each year that didn’t have to happen. Seamen working in unsafe conditions, on unseaworthy vessels, and without the proper safety gear and training has led to many fatalities that could have been prevented. Consequently, loved ones of maritime workers have the legal right to file for wrongful death if the death occurred due to the negligence of another party.

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Types of Wrongful Death Claims For  Maritime Cases

In maritime law, there are three different areas that cover seamen in the event of wrongful death, including the following:

The Jones Act

According to 46 U.S.C. § 30104 and 46 U.S.C. app. § 688, spouses and dependants of seamen who lost their lives at sea while at work have the legal right to collect damages against negligent employers. As with maritime injuries, wrongful death claims apply to those who are considered a seaman, meaning a substantial amount of work must have been performed on a vessel, and the worker must have contributed to the work of a vessel. Under the Jones Act, only the seaman’s employer can be held liable for damages.

For additional resources on the Jones Act, see our article Jones Act Lawyer.

Death on High Seas Act

The Death on High Seas Act (DOHSA) applies to seamen who were killed at least 3 miles or more away from shore. Spouses, children, and other dependent relatives are entitled to pecuniary damages under the act. However, damages for loss of companionship and emotional trauma are not covered. In addition, a Jones Act claim must be in place first before DOHSA can be started. Pecuniary damages include:

  • Children of the victim are entitled to damages for loss of nutrition, education, nurturing, and physical and moral training that’s deprived because of the death.
  • If the victim was conscious before the death and experienced physical trauma, loved ones may be eligible for pain and suffering compensation.
  • Loved ones of the victim are entitled to joint and several liability, meaning that the negligent party, whether it be the victim’s employer, a vessel owner, or another responsible party, is liable for the damages incurred because of the death.

For additional information on the DOHSA, see our article Death on High Seas Act.

The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act

Qualified loved one of the victim are eligible for benefits under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) as long as specific requirements are met. The claim must be filed within 30 days from either the death or within 30 days of the beneficiaries becoming aware of the death.

As with the Jones Act, the victim must have done a substantial amount of work upon a vessel on navigable waters and must qualify as a seaman in order for loved ones to receive death benefits. However, it’s important to note that the two acts are exclusive from each other. One of the biggest differences is that under LHWCA, even though seamen must perform a large amount of work on a vessel, they aren’t required to contribute to the work and function of the vessel; something that’s required under the Jones Act.

Death benefits under the LHWCA include:

  • 50% per widows
  • 50% for one child
  • 66 2/3 % for a widow with one or more children
  • 66 2/3% for more than one child

Children of the victim are entitled to benefits until they reach the age 18, unless they are full-time students. Full-time students can continue to receive benefits until they reach the age of 23 as long as they are in school throughout the duration of the benefits. Widows will receive benefits unless they remarry. If a remarriage occurs, they’ll receive a two-year lump sum known as a “dowry,” and then benefits will cease.

For additional resources and more in-depth information regarding LHWCA, see our article The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act.