Wrongful Death | Virginia Maritime Lawyer Richard Serpe

Virginia Maritime Death Lawsuits

When death occurs on the high seas or on the navigable waters of the United States, the legal issues that can be implicated are numerous.

The applicable laws, who can file a claim, and the remedies available can vary tremendously, depending on whether the person killed was a seaman, a longshoreman, or a non-seafarer; what caused the accident; who is being sued; and precisely where the accident occurred.  The general rules can be summarized, but this area of the maritime law is so complex and, at times, volatile, that small factual differences can make a big legal difference.

Wrongful Death of a Seaman

In the case of a seaman, the Jones Act applies, and those entitled to relief are the spouse and children of the deceased seaman, and if there are none, then next of kin who are actually dependent upon the seaman for support.  The damages available in a wrongful death case under the Jones Act do not include non-pecuniary damages, meaning that the losses for which recovery can be sought are ones that can be measured financially, and a court cannot award damages for grief or solace.  However, there may be a claim for pre-death pain and suffering of the seaman against the employer, while a claim based on “unseaworthiness” under the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA), could not include such a claim.

Wrongful Death of a Longshoreman

If a longshoreman is killed on the high seas, then the DOHSA applies.  This means that the remedy can only include non-pecuniary damages, and, unlike the case of a Jones Act seaman, it will not include any consideration of the pain and suffering the longshoreman might have suffered before he died.  However, if the longshoreman is in territorial waters, not on the high seas, then the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act can be applied, and non-pecuniary damages can be awarded.

Wrongful Death of a Non-Seafarer:
Cruise ship passengers, Recreational Boating Accidents, etc. 

If a non-seafarer (this might include a cruise ship passenger, the rider of a jet ski, or an airplane passenger involved in a crash away from the land) then the issues depend on where the accident occurred.  If the death happened on the “high seas,” which, since a 2000 amendment to the law is at least 12 nautical miles from shore, then the limitations of the DOHSA will apply.  On the other hand, if the accident occurred in territorial waters, the legal situation can get very interesting indeed.  The state wrongful death statutes can be used, which often allow for a more generous recovery than under the federal maritime statutes.  In fact, the laws of several states might apply to different issues in the same case.

Virginia Maritime Lawyer Richard Serpe

Maritime injury and death cases are incredibly complex. Not just any attorney can handle maritime cases.  If you’ve been injured in a Maritime accident, you should contact an experienced maritime attorney to discuss your legal rights.

After law school, Richard Serpe gained a Masters Degree in maritime law from Tulane University School of Law. He has also been awarded the rank of Proctor (the highest rank available) from the Maritime Law Association of the United States. Richard Serpe has the experience and knowledge to fight for the fair compensation that you deserve for your injuries. To setup a free consultation, contact us today 877-544-5323.