Maritime Wrongful Death Lawsuit in 2024 | A Guide to Fight for Your Rights

If your loved one died because of negligence that can be pinned on the maritime employer, the deceased’s next of kin of the  has the right to file a maritime wrongful death lawsuit. 

While some jobs are easy to perform, others come with the risk of injuries or, worse, death. Unfortunately, the risk of being caught in an accident and injured is higher in maritime jobs than in any other industry. 

Maritime workers who are at a higher risk of dying include:

  • Seamen.
  • Commercial fishermen.
  • Longshore workers.
  • Harbor workers.
  • Offshore workers.
  • Other people in the maritime industry.

Wrongful death claims under the Jones Act

The Jones Act is a law that protects seamen who work in the maritime industry. However, specific qualifications under the Jones Act need to be met to be considered a seaman. As a result, if you meet the requirements of a seaman, your loved ones have the right to sue and file wrongful death claims under general maritime if you die on the job.

Jobs for seamen are risky. Consequently, it becomes crucial that seamen’s dependents know they have these rights if the worst happens.

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With the guidance of skilled and experienced maritime wrongful death lawyers, loved ones of the deceased, like their spouse or child, can file a suit under the Jones Act to fight for maximum compensation. This includes money to cover funeral expenses and lost wages, which depend on the living expenses. 

In addition, the Jones Act specifically targets accidents where an employer is found to be negligent. Therefore, if the action of their employer could have prevented the seaman’s death, the surviving heirs are allowed to get the benefits by filing a wrongful death lawsuit. Generally, the burden of proof in this type of case is low, and there is only a need to prove the negligence contributed to the accident to any degree.

Maritime Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Who can bring a maritime wrongful death lawsuit under The Jones Act?

The eligible parties who can bring maritime law and wrongful death claims under the Jones Act include:

  • Parents, depending on the finances of the crewmember.
  • Spouses through marriage or common law at the time of passing.
  • Siblings who relied on the decedent for financial support.
  • Minor children or adult children who relied on the deceased’s financial support.

Damages recoverable in maritime wrongful death lawsuit

Claimants can recover the following if they could prove entitlement to them.

  • Financial support to dependents.
  • Funeral costs.
  • Lost wages of the deceased.
  • Pre-death medical expenses.
  • Care and guidance to dependent children.
  • Loss of services (chores and other household duties).
  • Pre-death pain and suffering felt by the deceased.

Understanding the Death on High Seas Act

The Death on High Seas Act (DOHSA) is applied only to those seamen who died at least three (3) miles or more away from shore. Consequently, the spouses, children, and other dependent relatives of the deceased may be entitled to damages under the DOHSA.

However, damages for loss of companionship and emotional trauma are not covered by the DOHSA. Moreover, the Jones Act claim must be in place first before a claim under DOHSA can be started.

Children of the victim could claim damages for loss of nutrition, education, nurturing, and physical and moral training that was deprived because of the death.

If the victim was conscious before the death and experienced physical trauma, their loved ones may be eligible to file a maritime wrongful death lawsuit to get compensation for pain and suffering.

Loved ones of the victim can claim joint and several liability against the defendants. This means that any or all the tortfeasors or negligent parties – the victim’s employer, a vessel owner, or another responsible party – are liable for the entire amount of the damages incurred because of the death.

What compensation can I get under the death on the high seas act?

Although the DOHSA does not particularly give the plaintiffs the right to recover the deceased’s lost income, the Act provides “fair compensation for the pecuniary loss sustained by the people for whose benefit the action is brought.” It means that the financial support that would have gone to the deceased’s dependents is what is recoverable. 

Hiring the top maritime wrongful death attorney will help you maximize your compensation. They will also provide you with proven strategies to win your case.

Here is a list of recoverable compensation under the DOHSA:

Financial contributions to children, spouses, and other dependents over the decedent’s expected work-life expectancy.

Accrual of wealth expected to be left behind to dependents.

Monetary value placed on the household services the deceased would have provided.

Like the Jones Act, the death on the high seas act allows defendants to file claims for pecuniary damages. However, the dependents are not allowed to file claims for loss of grief, mental anguish, or loss consortium as these are not financial damages. 

Moreover, unlike the Jones Act, the pre-death pain and suffering of the deceased are not an actionable claim unless the deceased was still alive and suffering before the maritime wrongful death lawsuit claim for the injuries resulting in death was brought.

Statute of limitation and eligibility

All laws that allow dependents to take federal maritime action for wrongful death have statutes of limitations. Therefore, if you have lost a loved one to a maritime job, ensure that you file your claim timely. Every state has its statute of limitations that determines the period when you are eligible to file your claim. So, you must know when your time will run out before you can get the compensation you deserve.

There are also eligibility requirements for the Jones Act and the DOHSA. The benefits allowed are limited to children, dependents, and spouses. In addition, the ex-spouses are not allowed to seek compensation for the death of the other. Meantime, family members other than children and spouses are allowed to take the benefits if they are financially dependent on the deceased. It includes siblings and grandparents, among others.

Specifically, the family members of the deceased need to file wrongful death claims under the DOHSA within three (3) years of their loved one’s passing. Otherwise, they won’t be able to file a lawsuit and get compensation for the losses and damages.

If you are unsure if you qualify for a maritime wrongful death lawsuit, we recommend reaching out to an experienced lawyer at Ethen Ostroff Law. Our team can connect you with experienced maritime lawyers that can work with you diligently. Learn more about your rights and potential legal options by calling us today!

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