Longshore And Defense Base Act FAQ

Who is covered by the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act?

The LHWCA covers work injuries that occur in maritime work on navigable waters of the United States or in adjoining waterfront areas close to harbors, rivers, or other waters. Employees covered by this Act work in maritime positions and include shipbuilders, longshoremen, harbor workers, barge operators, dock repair workers, and any workers performing covered work in a marine terminal. Other civilian workers on military bases inside and outside the U.S. or assisting the U.S. military operations abroad may also be covered by Longshore Act-related federal statutes.

What is the Defense Base Act (DBA)?

The DBA is an extension of the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA) and provides compensation and medical benefits to employees and death benefits to eligible survivors of civilian employees of U.S. government contractors who perform work overseas. The DBA generally follows the provisions of the LHWCA.

Who is covered under the DBA?

The Defense Base Act covers civilian workers who:

  • Work for private employers on U.S. military bases or on any lands used by the U.S. for military purposes outside of the United States
  • Work on public work contracts with any U.S. government agency, including construction and service contracts in connection with national defense or with war activities outside the United States
  • Work on contracts approved and funded by the U.S. under the Foreign Assistance Act, which among other things provides for cash sale of military equipment, materials, and services to its allies, if the contract is performed outside of the United States
  • Work for American employers providing welfare or similar services outside the United States for the benefit of the Armed Services, e.g., the United Service Organizations (USO)

If any one of the above criteria is met, all employees engaged in such employment, regardless of nationality, are covered under the Act.

Who enforces the DBA?

The U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Workers' Compensation Programs (OWCP), Division of Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation (DLHWC), administers the DBA through 11 district offices located throughout the United States. A federal law judge hears claims that cannot be resolved in a hearing intended to be near the claimant's place of residence in the U.S

Where should your Longshore or Defense Base Act claim be filed?

Longshore or Defense Base Act claims should be filed in the Longshore District Office responsible for the geographic area where the injured employee resides or the injury or death occurred in the case of U.S. Longshore cases.

What types of benefits are available under the LHWCA or DBA?

The LHWCA and Defense Base Act provide disability and medical benefits to covered employees injured in the course of employment, and death benefits to eligible survivors of employees killed in the course of employment. Compensation for total disability is two-thirds of the employee's average weekly earnings, up to a current maximum weekly benefit which is usually inflated annually. Compensation is also payable for partial loss of earnings.

Death benefits are paid at the rate of one-half of the employee's average weekly earnings to a surviving spouse or one child, or two-thirds of average weekly earnings for two or more eligible survivors up to the current maximum rate of $1,436.48 (2017) per week. The Defense Base Act also incorporates the LHWCA's provision for payment of reasonable funeral expenses.

Permanent total disability and death benefits may be payable for life, and are subject to annual cost of living adjustments. The LHWCA minimum benefits rate, however, does not apply to DBA claims

After an injury is at maximum medical improvement, the worker is entitled to ongoing permanent or partial benefits or a schedule award for the body part or hearing loss as determined by the Act. A competent attorney must advise you on this aspect.

The injured employee is also entitled to medical treatment by a physician of his/her choice, as the injury may require.

Are there any payment provisions that apply only to aliens and non-U.S. residents?

Yes.

  • Cases involving aliens and non-U.S. residents can be settled by a lump sum for benefits for permanent disability and death. In such cases, a one-time lump-sum payment may be issued by the employer/carrier representing half of the present value of future compensation as determined by the OWCP district director. Medical benefits may not be settled by this lump sum.
  • Death benefits may be paid only to the surviving spouse or child or children, or if no surviving spouse or child or children, to dependent parents.

What should I do if I get injured on the job?

You should notify your employer immediately within 30 days once you think you have a work injury. Additional time for reporting may be given for hearing loss injuries. If you need medical treatment, ask your employer to authorize treatment by a doctor of your own choice. You should not agree to give a statement or a taped interview to anyone.

How do I obtain compensation for my disability?

If you are disabled more than three days, contact your employer or the insurance company for payment of compensation, which must be paid 14 days after your employer has knowledge of the injury and claim for benefits. If payments are contested or withheld, call the Injured Workers' Legal Center at 800-852-8554.

How long do I have to file a claim for compensation based on my injury?

You must file a written claim for compensation with the OWCP district office having jurisdiction of your claim within one year after the date of injury or last payment of compensation, whichever is later. The time for filing claims in certain occupational disease cases is two years.

How do I obtain death benefits?

A written notice of the employee's death is given to the employer within 30 days. A claim for compensation must be filed with the OWCP office having jurisdiction of your claim within one year after the date of the employee's death.

What if my lawyer or I cannot resolve my claim with the employer or insurance carrier directly?

Claims that cannot be resolved informally may be sent to the Office of Administrative Law Judges (OALJ) for a formal hearing. Here you will be asked to testify with other possible witnesses, and doctors' medical evidence will be offered. Decisions by an administrative law judge may be appealed to the Benefits Review Board and to the federal courts.

Does my employer have to carry insurance?

Yes. The Longshore Act and DBA require every employer (including contractors and subcontractors) either to secure insurance for the payment of workers' compensation benefits provided under the Act or to be approved to self-insure. If a subcontractor fails to pay ordered compensation, the contractor will be liable and will be required to pay such benefits. Currently three major insurance carriers provide most of the Defense Base Act insurance coverage. They are ACE USA, American International Group (AIG), and CNA.

Will I have to pay my attorney?

The Longshore and Defense Base Act laws are complicated. An attorney who is a specialist in this area will help you figure out the benefits that you are eligible for and assist with finding doctors or medical providers if that is an issue. When the insurer does not pay voluntarily and the lawyer wins benefits for you, the attorney should be paid by the insurer, not you. Skilled attorneys such as those at the Injured Workers' Legal Center know when to put the case to a law judge and win the benefits the insurer does not want to pay.

Contact Us

For more information about the law and your right to compensation for your work injuries, call 800-852-8554. You may also contact us online.