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Dependents can seek recovery for death on the high seas


Many workers in Louisiana are employed in a variety of jobs that take place on the open ocean, including marine shipping, cruise lines and drilling platforms that explore and drill for oil and gas. Like workers on dry land, they can also meet with unfortunate accidents that can take their lives in a flash through no fault of their own.

The family of a worker who dies from a wrongful or negligent act on the high seas - defined as three or more nautical miles from the U.S. shoreline - is almost always devastated by the sudden loss. The effects are profoundly emotional and often financially severe. Fortunately, U.S. law allows them to seek compensation for their losses under provisions of the Death on the High Seas Act of 1920. The legislation has been amended once to include deaths in the air that occur 12 or more nautical miles off the U.S. coast.

The personal representative of a deceased maritime worker can initiate a civil action in a federal court against the responsible person or vessel. Such actions are only for the exclusive benefit of the deceased worker's spouse, parent or children or any other relative who was dependent on the deceased worker and his or her income.

The provisions of the act allow fair compensation for the monetary losses sustained by the dead worker's dependents. Any amount recovered must be distributed among the dependents in proportion to the loss each one has sustained.

The provisions of the Death on the High Seas Act provide that even if a worker's own actions were negligent and contributed to the accident that led to his or her death, those actions will not prevent recovery of compensation. The federal court will consider the degree of negligence of the worker and reduce the amount accordingly.

Source: Cornell.edu, "46 U.S. Code Chapter 303 - Death on the High Seas," Accessed on Feb. 13, 2015

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