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Death on the High Seas - Information

761. Right of action; where and by whom brought

Whenever the death of a person shall be caused by wrongful act, neglect, or default occurring on the high seas beyond a marine league from the shore of any State, or the District of Columbia, or the Territories or dependencies of the United States, the personal representative of the decedent may maintain a suit for damages in the district courts of the United States, in admiralty, for the exclusive benefit of the decedent's wife, husband, parent, child, or dependent relative against the vessel, person, or corporation which would have been liable if death had not ensued.

(Mar. 30, 1920, ch. 111, 1, 41 Stat. 537.)


Act Mar. 30, 1920, ch. 111, which enacted this chapter, is popularly know as the "Death on the High Seas Act".


Death of plaintiff pending action, see section 765 of this Appendix.


This section is referred to in section 765 of this Appendix.

762. Amount and apportionment of recovery

The recovery in such suit shall be a fair and just compensation for the pecuniary loss sustained by the persons for whose benefit the suit is brought and shall be apportioned among them by the court in proportion to the loss they may severally have suffered by reason of the death of the person by whose representative the suit is brought.

(Mar. 30, 1920, ch. 111, 2, 41 Stat. 537.)


Death of plaintiff pending action, see section 765 of this Appendix.


This section is referred to in section 765 of this Appendix.

763a. Limitations

Unless otherwise specified by law, a suit for recovery of damages for personal injury or death, or both, arising out of a maritime tort, shall not be maintained unless commenced within three years from the date the cause of action accrued.

(Pub. L. 96-382, 1, Oct. 6, 1980, 94 Stat. 1525.)


Section was not enacted as part of act Mar. 30, 1920, known as the Death on the High Seas Act, which comprises this chapter.

764. Rights of action given by laws of foreign countries

Whenever a right of action is granted by the law of any foreign State on account of death by wrongful act, neglect, or default occurring upon the high seas, such right may be maintained in an appropriate action in admiralty in the courts of the United States without abatement in respect to the amount for which recovery is authorized, any statute of the United States to the contrary notwithstanding.

(Mar. 30, 1920, ch. 111, 4, 41 Stat. 537.)

765. Death of plaintiff pending action

If a person die 1 as the result of such wrongful act, neglect, or default as is mentioned in section 761 of this Appendix during the pendency in a court of admiralty of the United States of a suit to recover damages for personal injuries in respect of such act, neglect, or default, the personal representative of the decedent may be substituted as a party and the suit may proceed as a suit under this chapter for the recovery of the compensation provided in section 762 of this Appendix.
1 So in original. Probably should be "dies".

(Mar. 30, 1920, ch. 111, 5, 41 Stat. 537.)

766. Contributory negligence

In suits under this chapter the fact that the decedent has been guilty of contributory negligence shall not bar recovery, but the court shall take into consideration the degree of negligence attributable to the decedent and reduce the recovery accordingly.

(Mar. 30, 1920, ch. 111, 6, 41 Stat. 537.)

767. Exceptions from operation of chapter

The provisions of any State statute giving or regulating rights of action or remedies for death shall not be affected by this chapter. Nor shall this chapter apply to the Great Lakes or to any waters within the territorial limits of any State, or to any navigable waters in the Panama Canal Zone.

(Mar. 30, 1920, ch. 111, 7, 41 Stat. 538.)


For definition of Canal Zone, referred to in text, see section 3602(b) of Title 22, Foreign Relations and Intercourse.


The United States Supreme Court, in the case of Chandris, Inc., v. Latsis, 515 U.S. 347, 115 S.Ct. 2172 (1995), has ruled that any worker who spends more than thirty percent of his time in the service of a vessel on navigable waters qualifies as a seaman under the Jones Act. An action under the Jones Act may be brought either in a U.S. federal court or in a state court.



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