Our firm has filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the family of a Florida Key’s dive boat crewmember who lost his life. On the night of November 15, 2015, the crewmember was serving as a deck hand aboard a dive boat while seventeen SCUBA divers were participating in a wreck dive. Court papers allege that at the end of the dive profile, four of the seventeen divers had not returned to the dive boat. The captain observed two of the divers approximately 300-400 feet away and the other two further down current. The crewmember entered the water to assist the divers back to the dive boat. He reached the first two divers and provided them a fixed line so they could be pulled back to the dive boat. He then continued to swim to the other two divers further down current — now about a half mile from the dive boat. While the crewmember was swimming to the two remaining divers, the Captain retrieved the dive boat’s anchor, stowed the deployed appurtenances. By the time the captain made way and maneuvered the dive boat to the crewmember, he was found floating unresponsive. He later perished leaving behind a wife and two minor children.
The crewmember’s family brought a Jones Act negligence claim and, in the alternative a Death on the High Seas Act claim against the dive boat owner, his employer and the dive boat captain. The family allege that the defendants failed to maintain a reasonably safe dive boat and failed conduct a safe dive which lead to the death. The family are claiming compensation in the form of: (1) pre-death pain and suffering that their husband/father endured, (2) loss of parental care, guidance and training the children would have received if their father had not died and (3) wages and services the crewmember would have contributed to the family had he lived. The case is currently pending in the 16th Judicial Circuit in and for Monroe County, Florida.
This case brings with it an interesting legal issue. Under maritime law, the Jones Act applies if a crewmember dies in state territorial water. If, however, the crewmember dies beyond state territorial waters the Death on the High Seas Act applies. Most states declare a territorial sea of three nautical miles. Florida, however, declares on its Atlantic coast side a territorial sea of three nautical miles of the western edge of the Gulfstream – whichever is farthest. In this case, the crewmember died more than three nautical miles but perhaps not beyond the Western edge of the Gulfstream. This matter to the lawsuit as the family can claim only pre-death pain and suffering if the Jones Act applies. The Death on the High Seas Act does not allow such damages.