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Even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, cruising remains popular. Sure, there may be more hoops to jump through in order to sail now, but, for many people, it’s worth it to get back to cruising again. In fact, every year millions of people around the globe go on a cruise.

With so many people traveling on the high seas, bad things do happen – injury and even death. If a loved one is killed at sea in a wrongful death case, it’s vital to understand what your rights are.

Here’s what you need to know about wrongful death and maritime law.

Wrongful Death at Sea

If you’re mourning the loss of the loved one in any situation, it’s difficult. If that death occurred because of the negligence of another person on a cruise ship, then that can feel even more overwhelming. Maritime law can be complex, but there are laws out there to help protect you and your loved ones if the worst should happen at sea.

Death on the High Seas Act

The Death on the High Seas Act is a legal avenue for those who lose a loved one at sea to pursue in order to recover damages from those who are responsible on a cruise ship. It specifically targets deaths caused by negligence or an issue with the vessel itself. It mostly applies to those who work on cruise ships.

Florida also has a wrongful death act that allows survivors in the family to sue for damages in wrongful death cases that occurred at sea. This includes cases for those who die in state territorial waters off the coast of Florida.

Death on the High Seas Act

The real issue is that, in most cases, people don’t understand the complexities that become a part of wrongful death cases involving navigable waters. Maritime cases simply do not follow the same rules or laws as other cases under the U.S. court system – it’s simply a space in which many people have no real knowledge.

Vessels on the oceans are subject to their own sets of regulations and laws, as well, which can be difficult to navigate if you’re unfamiliar with them. That’s why, if there’s a wrongful death at sea, you need a lawyer who practices maritime law.

An Overview of Maritime Wrongful Death Law

There are many different laws that can apply to a situation that takes place on a ship. It is dependent upon the circumstances of the case. There are several laws that can apply, including the Death on the High Seas Act.

Here is more specific information about the laws that tend to apply in wrongful death cases:

General Maritime Law

General maritime law focuses on accidents and injuries that occur at sea. These are the laws that are often applied in situations where a passenger is injured, since they address the duty of care that cruise ship companies must uphold to those aboard their vessels.

General maritime law feels a little bit like common law, because it is derived from the laws that you may be used to hearing in the regular court system.

The Jones Act

The Jones Act is a federal statute that gives those who work at sea the right to sue their employers for personal injury based on negligence.

The Death on the High Seas Act

This is another federal statute that allows people who survived those killed in international waters to sue the employer of the victim for damages – if there is a wrongful death caused by negligence or an issue with the vessel. It applies to ships that go beyond territorial waters in the U.S. It can apply to cruise ship passengers and has, in fact, been used by cruise ships companies as a way to avoid paying damages to surviving family members of those killed at sea.

Wrongful Death at Sea Attorney

Filing a Wrongful Death Claim

Since maritime law is so complex, it’s a good idea to meet with a lawyer who specializes in this field if you want to pursue a wrongful death case against a cruise line for the negligent death of a loved one. Your family may be able to get compensation for things such as:

  • Funeral expenses
  • Loss of companionship
  • Medical bills
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of income

You are going to have to be able to show that the cruise line acted in a negligent way that led directly to the death of your loved one. Bring any evidence and documentation of what happened that you have to help give your case the best chance possible. The attorney will then take over and do what they can within the confines of the law to help you recover any compensation to which you may be entitled.


About the Author:

Andrew Winston is a partner at the personal injury law firm of Winston Law. For over 20 years, he has successfully represented countless people in all kinds of personal injury cases, with a particular focus on child injury, legal malpractice, and premises liability. He has been recognized for excellence in the representation of injured clients by admission to the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, and named one of America’s Top 100 High-Stakes Litigators. Mr. Winston is AV Preeminent Rated by the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, enjoys a 10.0 rating by AVVO as a Top Personal Injury Attorney, has been selected as a Florida “SuperLawyer” from 2011-2021 – an honor reserved for the top 5% of lawyers in the state – was voted to Florida Trend’s ”Legal Elite,” recognized by Expertise as one of the 20 Best Fort Lauderdale personal injury attorneys, named one of the Top 100 Lawyers in the Miami area for 2015-2021, and one of the Top 100 Lawyers in Florida for 2015-2017 and 2019-2021.