Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act
The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) was enacted in 1927 to provide workers’ compensation to those maritime-related workers injured while on the job. These injuries can be due to on-the-job accidents, as well as other more long-term conditions such as hearing loss or chronic disease caused directly by the worker’s job. It also provides survivor benefits for the victim’s family in case of death.
There are two particular requirements workers must meet in order for the LHWCA to be applicable. These are typically referred to as “situs” and “status” requirements, meaning the site of the accident and whether the individual qualifies as a maritime employee or was engaged in maritime-related work. First, in order for an employee to be eligible for benefits under the LHWCA, the worker’s injuries must occur on the navigable waters of the United States or in areas adjoining the water like piers, docks, bridges and shipyards.
Second, a significant part of the employee’s work must have something to do with water or marine transport. The types of employees covered by the LHWCA include longshore workers, dock workers, ship-repairers and shipbuilders, crane operators and harbor construction workers — that is, maritime workers not covered by the Jones Act. Even some gas and oil rig employees are covered, depending on the type of rig.
This federal system is similar to state workers’ compensation, though typically more generous. It allows qualified workers to secure benefits for medical care and two-thirds of their weekly wages for work-related accidents, regardless of fault. This is important because, unlike the Jones Act, it is not necessary to prove that the negligence of an employer or co-worker led to the accident to seek recovery. And while the injured workers and families with wrongful death claims are limited in the amount of compensation they can recover through LHWCA, a plaintiff may file a claim against their employer or a third party in instances of vessel negligence. In this sense, the act can permit compensation far beyond that granted by state workers’ compensation laws.
The act can permit compensation far beyond that granted by state workers' compensation laws.
Kreindler Partners Prove Barge was on Navigable Waters
Following the tragic drowning of an engineer working for Lockheed Martin, the victim’s wife applied for survivor’s benefits under the LHWCA. Initially, the defendants were successful in having the benefits claim denied and relegating the case to New York State Workers’ Compensation. This result would have barred any action against Lockheed Martin and severely limiting their liability. Defendants argued, first, that the victim was not a maritime employee, and second, the barge from which the victim fell was a fixed platform, more like an artificial island, so he would only be on navigable water while in transit to and from the barge.
On appeal, however, Kreindler attorneys were able to satisfy the “situs” and “status” requirements of the LHWCA. They proved that the barge was not fixed but a floating platform, meaning the site of the accident was most certainly on navigable waters and that the victim’s job met the definition of maritime employee as he was required to be on navigable waters to perform his work testing sonar equipment.
The New York State Workers’ Compensation agreed, overturning the denial of the LHWCA claim. The reversal also opened up the possibility of litigation against Lockheed Martin which led to undisclosed settlement due to confidentiality.