Washington Coast Guard Rescues Depend on Connection Between Air and Sea

A distressed sailor with a capsized vessel north of Port Townsend, Washington was recently rescued by the Pacific Northwest Coast Guard. The Coast Guard directed a 45 foot Response Boat to the scene and launched a helicopter to conduct the rescue mission. Coast Guard crew arrived to find the sailor uninjured and with the boat righted. Both the sailor and the sailboat were taken safely to the Point Hudson Marino.

Soon after this rescue, a Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decision was published about a rescue effort launched by the Coast Guard to find a distressed fishing vessel in Lake Erie. The rescue involved the Coast Guard and the Canadian Armed Forces, including four vessels and two aircraft. The mission was launched after a college student, a licensed pilot in an aviation program, reported a 25-foot fishing vessel with four people aboard wearing life jackets and activated strobe lights. The report turned out to be false, and federal criminal charges were pursued. The case resulted in the student, who had aspirations to be a Coast Guard pilot himself, pleading guilty to making a false distress call and liable for nearly half a million dollars of restitution to both the Coast Guard and Canadian Armed Forces. The student appealed the restitution amount to the Coast Guard and argued against the U.S. District Court's authority to order to damage to the Canadian Armed Forces. The Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court's award to the Canadian Armed Forces and the amounts calculated for both forces.

The recent rescue and the 6th Circuit decision showcases the overlap between aircraft use and matters at sea. Maritime law recognizes this connection by allowing recovery for the family members of those who were killed by a commercial aircraft accident. The Death on the High Seas Act is federal law that allows those who are killed at sea in a commercial aviation accident at a distance of 12 nautical miles from the shore. Seamen may recover if the accident occurred more than 3 nautical miles from shore. Non-pecuniary damages are available for loss of care, comfort, and companionship. Punitive damages or pain and suffering are not recoverable.

The federal statute allows for damages for family members, which can be recovered if a wrongful act, neglect, or default occurs beyond the established distance. If the deceased was contributorily negligent, or lent to his or her death, that will not prevent the family from receiving damages. In that event, however, the damages can be reduced by the percentage of contribution. Recovery under state law may also be pursued by the deceased's family members.

The Washington wrongful death attorneys, John Merriam and Gordon Webb, are here to assist family members obtain the damages they are entitled to under the Death on the High Seas Act. Whether a commercial aviation accident or commercial fishing vessel, the trusted expertise of experienced seamen and maritime attorneys is crucial to maximizing the recovery you need. If a family member has died while in the service of a vessel in a commercial airline accident on the high seas, contact our office to speak with someone today.

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