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Death on the High Seas Act Needs Changing

May 17, 2012
Colson Hicks Eidson

Unless you have had to deal with it, you have probably never heard of the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA). Those who have had to deal with it have found out just how unfair the law can be to family members whose loved ones died at sea. It was that law that allowed BP to pay just $1000.00 to the family of a man killed on its Deepwater Horizon rig in 2005.

The reason BP paid so little in damages to the family was that the rig was more than three miles off the coast at the time of the explosion. The law as it stands now, severely limits a company’s liability for maritime accidents. One of the reasons is because the law is over 90 years old and has failed to change with the times, despite efforts by lawmakers.

Originally passed by Congress in 1920, the federal law ensured that families of men injured at sea would receive fair compensation for their loved one’s death. The DOHSA is federal law, which means it trumps state laws that traditionally allow families to receive fair compensation in similar wrongful death cases. Even with a minor change in 2000, family members of people killed on cruise ships still cannot recover non-economic damages under the DOHSA.

The cruise ship industry does not want any more changes to the DOHSA. Until then, family members will be unable to recover fair compensation when a company’s negligence takes their loved one’s life.

Do you have a loved one who was killed at sea?