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Court Agrees DOHSA Applies Where Death Occurs on High Seas Even of Where Alleged Negligence Occurs on Land

News from the Clark Partington firm:

Clark Partington’s Aviation Litigators and Shareholders Michael Schofield and Jim Green recently prevailed on a motion for summary judgment in a high stakes wrongful death claim arising from an airplane crash in the Gulf of Mexico. Michael Schofield is board certified in aviation litigation by the Florida Bar and has been assisted by Jim Green on numerous aviation litigation matters.

In the case the plaintiff alleged that our client failed to properly maintain a U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon jet fighter (also known as a Viper) based at Tyndall Air Force Base, east of Panama City, Florida, and sought “all damages permitted by law in an amount in excess of five million dollars.” Our client denies it failed to properly maintain the aircraft and raised as an affirmative defense that damages should be limited by the Death on the High Seas Act (“DOHSA”) to fair compensation for the pecuniary loss sustained by the decedent’s survivors.

Schofield and Green’s motion for partial summary judgment sought a ruling that this case falls under DOHSA and is subject to its statutory limitation on damages because as required by DOHSA decedent died more than twelve miles from shore. Plaintiff argued that DOHSA did not apply because the alleged negligence took place only on land and the flight was a military training sortie. In response Schofield and Green argued the DOHSA statute itself explicitly provides that it applies where the death occurs on the high seas, that the case law interpreting DOHSA provides that a cause of action under DOHSA accrues at the time and place where an allegedly wrongful act or omission was consummated in an actual injury, not at the point where previous or subsequent negligence occurred, and that the cases relied upon by plaintiff all involved instances where DOHSA was found to apply where a decedent suffered a mortal injury at sea but survived long enough to die after getting back to land. The trial court agree with this reasoning and ruled that DOHSA applied to plaintiff’s claims and thus her damages are limited to the fair compensation for the pecuniary loss sustained by the decedent’s survivors.