Under maritime law or admiralty law, there are many benefits available for maritime workers, both based onshore and offshore, who die in the course of or as the result of their maritime-industry employment. Moreover, there are instances when even private maritime passengers are severely injured or their accident results in death. Both the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) and the Jones Act were historically enacted to ensure that the families of deceased maritime employees, as well as passengers, retained legal recourse in the event of a wrongful or negligent death of their loved one during the course of employment in international waters.
As previously mentioned, general maritime law or admiralty law applies to both wrongful death claims of maritime and non-maritime workers whose death occurred on navigable waters. Thus here are two general types kind of wrongful death claims that can be brought, including a claim on the behalf of a longshore worker or a claim on the behalf of a passenger or other person aboard the vessels. Under the Death on High Seas Act that is a cornerstone of admiralty law in the United States, the family of the deceased maritime worker or non-maritime worker (such as a passenger or victim who died while at sea) has three (3) years from the date of actual death date of the deceased worker or passenger to file a claim. Under this act, family or the potential beneficiaries, including immediate relatives, spouse, dependents, and other real parties of interest, can make requests for damages under DOSHA for bereavement expenses, decreased household income, loss of consortium, and other damage claims.
Per the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, an eligible plaintiff or set of plaintiffs in a wrongful death claims must adhere to a one (1) statute of limitations beginning upon the date of death of their loved one during the course of his or her maritime employment. The LHWCA provides a federal, no-fault system to ensure efficient compensation of claims from maritime workers not covered seamen or crewmember protections. Benefits available to real parties of interest and relatives of a deceased worker per the LHWCA are entitled to pension benefits, burial expenses, and other provisions pending the specifics of each maritime wrongful death incident.
Under the Jones Act, wrongful death claims are the exclusive remedy if the deceased is a seamen or crewmember. If the decedent is a seaman or crewmember, a death claim is brought against the seaman’s or crewmember’s employer per provisions and addendums to the Jones Act. Beneficiaries of the decedent’s estate and the beneficiaries eligible under the terms of the Jones Act can then begin the process of following through with claims for wrongful death damages, including both pecuniary and non-pecuniary losses pending the case. However, beneficiaries of the Jones Act, as well as those relatives covered in cases of wrongful death, are restricted to seamen and crewmembers spending the bulk of the course of their employment offshore.
Ultimately, there are many nuances in filing a claim on the behalf of a deceased loved one who was killed during the course of employment, whether onshore or offshore. The relatively nuanced and esoteric nature of admiralty law generally benefits claimants most when legal counsel is helping with a maritime death benefits claims from the earliest stages of the worker’s death and continuing until the resolution of the client’s maritime death benefits claim.