When A Cruise Ship Passenger Dies At Sea

Anybody who has ever taken a cruise knows that magical feeling when you are finally out at sea. Unable to see land in any direction gives one the romantic sense of finally getting away from it all. Tragically, it also has some very significant legal ramifications if a cruise ship passenger dies at sea.

Nearly 100 years ago the United States created one of its most unfair and certainly unknown laws known as the Death on High Seas Act or DOHSA. Essentially, this law insulates cruise ship companies from full responsibility and accountability for any passenger death that occurs due to the ship’s neglect by limiting the amount of damages owed to the surviving family.

According to 46 USC Chapter §30301 et seq. cruise ships are not responsible to pay for their the full amount of damages caused by their wrongful conduct provided the accident occurs more than 3 miles from the shore of the United States. This magical 3 mile barrier is called the “high seas.” In addition, DOHSA denies plaintiffs the right to a trial by jury.

Now imagine that you and your family take a five-day cruise that embarks from the Port of Miami. On the first day out at sea, your mother falls off her stateroom’s balcony because the railing was improperly maintained. Under DOHSA, the cruise ship company would solely be responsible to pay only her lost wages and burial expense (assuming she was working and is ever recovered). Essentially, this means that unemployed, elderly or child passengers who die on a cruise ship, are left with no lost wage claim meaning the cruise line pays nothing.

Many families of passengers who die on cruise ships are shocked the archaic DOHSA has withstood the test of time. But the cruise lines employ powerful lobbyist to make sure Congress keeps companies like Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian profitable and happy. For example, last year, Faye Lasky, the wife of Sholem Lasky sued Royal Caribbean Cruise Line after her husband fell on board the Navigator of the Seas, broke his neck and died. Her demand for wrongful death damages and a jury trial was dismissed by the Court; leaving her only entitled to economic damages.

Last month, the world was surprised to watch Carnival tugging the lifeless cruise ship Triumph across the Gulf of Mexico for five days with over 4000 passengers and crew stewing in their own feces. But I am sure Carnival felt confident, with DOSHA firmly in place, they would be insulated from responsibility should anyone perish outside of the magical 3 mile shield known as the High Seas.

Typically, if a parent is killed in Florida due to the carelessness of another or a company the surviving children under the age of 25 have the right to recover not merely the parent’s loss of income and funeral expenses but the loss of companionship, instruction and guidance and mental pain and suffering. That is because Florida’s wrongful death statute recognizes that the death of a parent means more to a child than just money. For some reason, Congress does not agree and continues to permit cruise lines to benefit from this unfair and essentially unknown law.

Our Cruise Accident Lawyers were the first in the country to sue Carnival for the personal injuries sustained by our client on the ill fated Triumph. We strongly urge Congress to repeal DOHSA and allow the families of passengers killed on cruise ships to receive compensation for the full measure of damages. DOHSA is simply another example of a law that is in place solely to protect the wealthy and powerful at the expense of those who need legal protection the most. The parent, husband or wife who dies due to the cruise ships neglect should be valued more than simply by what they made and what it cost to bury them.