Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation
Longshore and harbor workers deal with heavy equipment and cargo and consequently face many risks in the course of their employment. They can be injured by forklift and crane accidents, fires and explosions, falls, crush damage from improperly secured cargo, and many other workplace hazards. Repetitive stress injuries and back injuries, for example, are very common among longshore and harbor workers as a result of persistent strains from moving heavy loads.
In recognition of these dangers, the U.S. government passed the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA), a federal law that specifically provides benefits for maritime workers who work on or near the navigable waters of the United States.
However, the LHWCA is a complex law that has been amended and updated several times since it was first enacted in 1927. There are many exceptions and important nuances which affect how and when an injured maritime worker will be compensated.
Who Is Covered by the LHWCA?
To be eligible for compensation under the LHWCA, the injured worker’s role must primarily involve the water or maritime transport. Work areas that qualify as related to the water include piers, wharves, dry-docks, bridges, shipyards, shipping terminals, harbors, building ways, and marine railways.
The types of roles covered involve loading, unloading, repairing, or building a water vessel, including:
- Longshore checkers
- Shipyard workers
- Ship repairers
- Ship builders
- Ship breakers
- Harbor construction workers
The actual crew of a watercraft, such as captains, first mates, engineers, and others, are not covered by the LHWCA. Neither are clerical staff and office workers for maritime companies.
There are numerous other roles that may take place near U.S. waterways which are also exempt, including:
- Retail outlet employees
- Marina employees not engaged in marine construction or maintenance
- Private individuals building a recreational vessel under 65 feet in length
- Aquaculture employees
Additionally, the law is not applicable to state or federal employees. However, civilians working on U.S. military bases may be covered.
What Benefits Are Available Under the LHWCA?
Every maritime employer is required by the Department of Labor to purchase longshore and harbor workers’ compensation insurance (typically from a private insurance provider) for all their employees whose work involves the water.
That coverage can pay for:
- Lost wages for missed work
- Payment of reasonable and necessary medical expenses
- Reimbursement of travel expenses related to medical treatment
- Vocational rehabilitation
- Death benefits and funeral expenses
The LHWCA entitles maritime workers to temporary compensation equal to two-thirds of their average weekly wage while undergoing medical treatment for their work injury. If they suffered a grievous injury which permanently damaged a body part, they are entitled to either payments to compensate for the loss of use or disfigurement of that body part, or two-thirds of their loss of wages or earning capacity.
The LHWCA defines four types of disability benefits:
- Temporary Total
The maritime worker is unable to perform any role while they recover.
- Temporary Partial
The maritime worker can perform limited duties while they recover.
- Permanent Total
The maritime worker has recovered from their immediate injury and achieved medical permanency but is no longer able to work.
- Permanent Partial
The maritime worker has recovered from their immediate injury and achieved medical permanency but can only perform in a limited role going forward.
Whether a maritime worker is permanently or temporarily disabled is a determination made by their treating physician. Medical permanency is achieved when the patient reaches maximum improvement in their recovery.
If after reaching permanency, the individual still can return to their original role, they may qualify for permanent total disability. If they can return to an alternative role or form of employment, they may qualify for permanent partial disability benefits.
Vocational Rehabilitation Services
Once an injured maritime worker has achieved medical permanency, they may request vocational rehabilitation under the LHWCA, which are services that assist partially disabled individuals in acquiring new job skills or adapting to their existing job despite their new impairment.
Reporting Requirements and Deadlines
The LHWCA requires maritime employees who have been injured at work to notify their employers of the injury within 30 days. The law also requires that a formal claim for benefits be filed with the Department of Labor within one year from the date of the injury.
Enforce Your Rights Under the LHWCA
The benefits due to an injured maritime worker should be voluntarily provided by their employer, but unfortunately, sometimes employers and their insurance companies are slow to act, or they attempt to limit a maritime worker’s access to the compensation they are entitled to. An experienced lawyer will know how to navigate the complexities of the LHWCA, ensuring the appropriate treatment and benefits are rendered.
Pond Lehocky Giordano takes all LHWCA cases on a contingency basis and accepts no fee unless the claim is successful. Furthermore, under the LHWCA, if a maritime employer is forced to hire an attorney to receive their full benefits and wins their case, their employer is required to pay the employee’s attorney fees.