DOHSA Applies to Certain Airplane and Helicopter Crashes

The Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) made headlines following the Deepwater Horizon explosion, as people became concerned that BP would get away with paying only minimal damages to the family members of the 11 rig workers who died in that tragic offshore accident. One thing about DOHSA that many people may not know is that it also applies to certain airplane and helicopter crashes.

When a commercial plane or helicopter crashes at sea, depending on where the crash occurs, family members of those killed in the accident may be able to file wrongful death claims under DOHSA. In accordance with the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act of the 21st Century, which Congress passed in 2000, commercial aviation crashes that occur more than 12 nautical miles from a U.S. shoreline fall under the purview of DOHSA. Prior to this act, the applicable distance for aviation crashes was three nautical miles, which is still the case for maritime accidents.

This important amendment to DOHSA also allows family members of those killed in commercial aviation crashes to recover additional damages beyond compensation for loss of support. They can recover non-pecuniary damages for loss of comfort, care and companionship. They cannot, however, seek compensation for their loved one’s pre-death pain and suffering or recover punitive damages.

Unfortunately, DOHSA still does not allow these non-pecuniary damages in non-aviation lawsuits. The push to extend these damages to all DOHSA cases continues, having gained renewed support following the Deepwater Horizon incident.

Did your loved one die a wrongful death on the high seas? Contact a Boston maritime attorney today to learn about your rights under DOHSA and other maritime laws.

Latti & Anderson LLP –Boston maritime trial lawyers