Recent Deaths from Capsizing Accidents Raises Questions on Legal Remedies Available for Families in Washington and Across the U.S.

Last month, several tragic deaths occurred due to capsized boats. At the end of May, an African tug-boat capsized off the coast of Africa due to heavy Atlantic Ocean swells. Twelve men worked onboard, but only one man is known to have survived the accident. Ten bodies were recovered, and one crew member remains missing. Two weeks prior to this incident, an experienced competitive sailor died after his catamaran capsized in the San Francisco Bay while practicing for the America's Cup. The cause of the capsize was unknown at the time.

The legal remedy for a death caused by a capsizing accident depends on whether the deceased was a crew-member or passenger and where the accident occurred. The duty owed to the family of the deceased or the deceased's estate by the ship owner can also depend on how the accident occurred and whether the deceased was a seaman or passenger.

The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, or the Jones Act, provides relief for seamen injured in the course of employment. The Jones Act codified some long-standing maritime law principles of ship-owners, providing "maintenance and cure" to those injured. The Jones Act also provides death benefits to the estate or family members of the deceased, including funeral expenses, loss of companionship, and loss of future wages. Punitive damages may also be pursued from the vessel owner if there was willful and wanton conduct that resulted in a death. For example, punitive damages may be pursued if a boat capsized and killed a crew member and the capsized occurred because the boat was unseaworthy or remained willfully un-repaired.

If the death occurred beyond a marine league off the U.S. Coast, then the legal remedies stem from the Death on the High Seas Act. If the death came from the default or negligent act of the ship owner, then the deceased's estate or family members may pursue pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages available. These include funeral expenses and loss of companionship, but not punitive damages. Awards, however, may be reduced if there is a finding by the court that the deceased was also negligent, and that the negligence contributed to the cause of the death.

Passenger ships, like cruise ships, owe a general duty to keep those onboard safe, or provide "reasonable care under the circumstances". Like other negligence cases found in state or federal court, if the ship owners were negligent and that negligence caused a death, then they are liable for damages.

If you have a family member that has been killed while either working or vacationing at sea, the experienced maritime wrongful death attorneys, John Merriam and Gordon Webb, are here to help find the best legal remedy for you. If you would like a free, confidential consultation to see what type of damages you are entitled to, contact one of our offices at 877.800.1007.

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