This case involves an offshore platform worker who was working for a company that did work on oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. The worker was flown by helicopter to inspect the fire safety equipment on an oil platform. When the pilot of the helicopter attempted to land, the helicopter’s main rotor struck a boat landing that was stored near the helipad. This caused the helicopter to skid in circles across the helipad. The helicopter momentarily came to rest on the oil platform, then fell into the ocean. The worker floated in the water for two hours and later died of a heart attack while he was being rescued. The family of the worker brought a wrongful death suit against the company that operated the helicopter. A number of expert witnesses specialize in aviation appraisal, aviation safety and aerospace engineering were retained for the case.
Question(s) For Expert Witness
- Can the survivors of an offshore platform worker bring a wrongful death suit against a helicopter company if the worker was killed in an aviation accident on the high seas?
Expert Witness Response
The Death on the High Seas Act (46 U.S.C. § 761) allows the survivors of a passenger killed in an airplane or helicopter crash to bring a wrongful death action if the passenger is killed on the high seas. Under this law, the survivors of a passenger killed on the high seas may bring a wrongful death action if the passenger was killed beyond a marine league from the shore or, in the case of a commercial aviation accident, more than 12 nautical miles from shore. This law was amended in 2000 to allow the survivors of a person killed on the high seas in a commercial aircraft accident to bring a suit to get damages for pecuniary losses (i.e. lost wages, funeral expenses, and other monetary support) and also to get damages for the loss of the passenger’s “care, comfort, and companionship.” Since the helicopter accident in this case happened in the water and the worker was being transported between an island and the shore, his survivors could probably bring a wrongful death suit against the helicopter company. Under the Death on the High Seas Act, the survivors of the worker could probably bring a suit to get pecuniary damages and workers compensation for the loss of care, comfort and emotional support of the worker in this case.