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Florida Third DCA rules that federal Death on the High Seas Act is inapplicable to deaths occurring within Florida's territorial waters extending up to shoreward edge of Gulf Stream

On June 6, 2018, in Kipp v. Amy Slate’s Amoray Dive Center, No. 3D17-316, the Florida Third DCA reversed a trial court’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s wrongful death complaint against two defendants the plaintiff alleged negligently caused the death of her husband. The trial court contended that the case had to be brought in federal court under the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA), 46 U.S.C. Sections 30301-30308, because the death occurred more than three nautical miles from the U.S. shore, the threshold of DOHSA jurisdiction. On appeal, the Third DCA observed that DOHSA also explicitly states that it does not apply to waters within the territorial limits of a State. With respect to most coastal States, this creates no conflict, because the territorial limit is three nautical miles. However, Florida’s territorial limit extends to the greater of three miles from the coast or to the shoreward edge of the Gulf Stream. In this case, it was uncertain based on the complaint whether the decedent died outside three nautical miles but inside the shoreward edge of the Gulf Stream, prompting the Third DCA to reverse and remand the case for further proceedings. The Third DCA also noted that even if DOHDA was subsequently determined to be applicable, this would not deprive the state court of jurisdiction over DOHSA claims, citing Offshore Logistics, Inc. v. Tallentire, 477 U.S. 207 (1986) and Hughes v. Unitech Aircraft Serv., Inc., 662 So. 2d 999, 1000 (Fla. 4 th DCA 1995).
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