While seamen are protected by the Jones Act and given the right to sue employers who are negligent in the cause of an injury, there are other maritime workers who don’t qualify as seamen. These men and women may also be injured on the job due to an employer’s negligence and also may need protection under the law for compensation and the right to sue.
This is where the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) is important. It provides benefits and rights to maritime workers not qualifying as seamen. These include harbor workers, longshoremen, and shipyard workers. The LHWCA provides protection for these workers in the event of an employment-related injury or illness. The federal law provides for compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and other expenses and is administered by the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs.
Who is Covered by the LHWCA?
The LHWCA protects certain maritime workers who don’t classify as seamen under the Jones Act. To qualify as a seaman you must spend at least 30 percent of your working time aboard an operable vessel in navigation and in navigable waters. The Act covers maritime workers on navigable waters and in adjoining areas. These are listed as places such as loading and unloading areas, and as places where ships are repaired or built.
Longshore and harbor workers like shipbreakers, shipbuilders, and ship repairers are included under the LHWCA. The law also includes extensions to cover workers contracted by the U.S. but working in other countries, for civilians working with the U.S. military, and employees of private businesses operating on the outer continental shelf of the U.S.
Who is Not Covered by the LHWCA?
The LHWCA does not cover all maritime workers. For example, those qualifying as seamen under the Jones Act cannot be covered by the LHWCA. Other types of maritime workers excluded under the LHWCA include:
- Employees of the U.S. government
- Employees of a foreign government
- Employees intoxicated at the time of an injury or accident
- Employees who intentionally injured themselves
- Any employees covered by state workers’ compensation
Provisions of the LHWCA
If you qualify under the LHWCA and are injured or become ill on the job, the law guarantees you certain compensation. Injured or sick workers are entitled to 66 and two-thirds percent of weekly wages for as long as the illness or injury prevents the worker from going back on the job. Workers also have a right to compensation for any injury that is permanent and to compensation for medical expenses.
For workers that die on the job, beneficiaries are entitled to certain benefits under the LHWCA. This amounts to 50 percent of the worker’s average wage for the surviving spouse, plus 16 and two-thirds percent of the average wage for each surviving child of the deceased. Funeral expenses of up to $3,000 may be provided as well.
The employer is obligated to pay the expenses guaranteed by the LHWCA to injured workers who qualify under the law. To be able to pay these expenses, employers must be covered by an approved insurance provider or by being self-insured, which requires authorization by the Department of Labor. In most cases, the injured worker or his or her beneficiaries receive benefits directly from the employer or insurance provider in a timely and regular manner.
Extensions of the LHWCA
To make sure that everyone in the maritime field has the right to compensation for on-the-job injuries or illnesses, the LHWCA has been extended several times. For example, the Defense Base Act is an extension that provides coverage for workers hired by U.S. contractors to work in foreign countries or waters.
The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act covers maritime workers in the private industry who work on the part of the outer continental shelf that belongs to the U.S. Finally, the Nonappropriated Fund Instrumentalities Act covers those civilian employees working for social clubs, recreational facilities, and military post exchanges of the U.S. Armed Forces.
Statute of Limitations for the LHWCA
If you qualify as a worker under the LHWCA and become ill or injured on the job, you do not have forever to make your claim and get the compensation you deserve. The statute of limitations extends to one year beyond the time you discovered your injury or were diagnosed with an illness. If your employer is currently paying directly for your medical bills and lost wages, your statute of limitation begins when those payments stop.
There are some other exceptions to this limitation. For instance, if your employer decides to stop paying benefits, you have up to three years to file an LHWCA claim. If your employer takes more than a year to file an injury report form, your statute of limitations is waived. If you only realize that your work environment contributed to an illness or injury years after the fact, your statute of limitations can be extended. This may happen if you have a repetitive motion injury that worsens over time or if you become ill decades after exposure to asbestos on the job.
LHWCA Claims and Appeals
If you are injured at work or believe that your workplace has made you sick, you can file a claim under the LHWCA. The most important thing to do first is to get a thorough accident report completed. You also need to get treated medically as soon as possible. If your employer, you, or anyone else involved disagrees with any part of the claim or compensation, you will need these pieces of evidence to insure you get the benefits to which you are entitled.
If there is a disagreement or conflict over benefits your claim may go through an appeals process and a formal hearing with a judge. An appeal of the judge’s ruling goes before the Benefits Review Board, and from there to a U.S. Circuit Court or even the Supreme Court.
You should know and understand your rights under the LHWCA if you are a maritime worker who qualifies. If you are injured or become sick because of your maritime job, you are entitled to compensation. Trust in an experienced lawyer, someone who knows maritime law, to help you through the process and to ensure you get all that you deserve.