Understanding the Defense Base Act

Serving in the military requires special skills and a firm commitment to the tedious, challenging, and even dangerous work that must be performed. Assignments may also take civilian workers and other contracted employees to U.S. military bases around the world. If a worker is employed by the U.S. government and is injured or dies in a maritime accident while working in this capacity, he or she may be eligible for benefits under the Defense Base Act (DBA). At Freedman & Lorry, P.C., our Cape May maritime lawyers will assist maritime workers in recovering benefits for injuries incurred while fulfilling military or contracted duties.

What is the Defense Base Act?

The DBA was created in 1941 to provide work injury benefits to civilians employed overseas at U.S. military bases or other workers who may be contracted by the government to complete assignments. The DBA is an extension of the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA). It aims to protect employees, which may include foreign nationals who may be injured or lose their lives while working on a U.S. military base anywhere around the world. Compensable injuries include those arising out of and in the course of employment. In some cases, injuries incurred outside of regular job duties or work hours may also be covered. Covered injuries include:

  • Repetitive motion injuries
  • Slip and fall injuries
  • Injuries caused by malfunctioning machinery
  • Burns
  • Cuts and lacerations
  • Automobile accidents
  • Injuries caused by recreational accidents

Workers may have received inadequate medical care from a local because they were stationed or assigned to a remote location. Any subsequent injuries or prolonged suffering will be covered under the DBA. At the same time, some injuries may not be covered. These injuries include:

  • Willful acts that are considered ill-advised, reckless, or in violation of the terms of employment
  • Any injury that occurs while the employee is intoxicated
  • Suicide

What Criteria is Needed to File a Claim?

The injured worker must fulfill the necessary criteria to allow a claim to be filed under the DBA. A knowledgeable attorney will weigh the circumstances of the accident and injuries to determine the appropriate course of action. The following employees may be eligible for benefits under the DBA:

  • Those working at a U.S. defense base overseas or for a private employer who is using the land for military purposes.
  • Those working abroad on a public works contract involving national defense or military activities that was contracted by a U.S. government agency; construction or civil engineering projects may be the basis for the work.
  • Those working for the U.S. government overseas on contracts and projects supported and funded by the government. This may include sales of military equipment and other services to U.S. allies as detailed in the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act.
  • Those providing services intended to build morale and support overseas military personnel. For example, this may include individuals working for the USO or similar organizations.

Some workers may feel that they qualify under the DBA but were told by their employer or contractor that they did not qualify. Workers may have also been told that their work was not covered under the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act, or were made to believe that they should not file a claim until they returned to the U.S. However, workers have two different claims if someone is found to be responsible for their injuries. The DBA pays for the injuries and workers may file a lawsuit against the responsible party for negligence. A maritime accident lawyer will review each case, investigate the injury, and determine how to file a claim on the victim’s behalf.

What Benefits are Included in the DBA?

Under the DBA, covered workers may be eligible for benefits covering the cost of a variety of injury-related expenses. If the individual suffered a permanent disability or died because of the accident, benefits may be paid out to the employee or dependent family members for life. Beneficiaries generally receive approximately two-thirds of their average weekly wage prior to the accident up to a certain amount. Annual caps may change according to the economy and fluctuations in wage rates. Benefits may also include:

  • Compensation for medical treatment
  • Vocational rehabilitation
  • Disability and/or lifetime disability compensation
  • Death benefits

If a victim was denied benefits or was not classified properly, we will file a claim and ensure that they are compensated properly. In many cases, workers want to go back to their jobs. Therefore, they should receive vocational rehabilitation if needed it. When faced with a disability, workers should receive disability benefits, and we will help them file a disability claim. If a loved one has died in an accident that should be covered by the DBA, we will file a claim for wrongful death under the DBA.

What is the Zone of Special Danger?

The Zone of Special Danger doctrine provides the same coverage when a worker incurs an injury while off-duty from their job. Although injury circumstances may be more difficult to prove, participation in other activities while stationed overseas for work often counts as part of the work relationship. Provide us with any documentation collected when meeting with one of our lawyers for a free consultation, and we will investigate the accident or injury, even if it did not occur on the job.

The Zone of Special Danger factors into any case, regardless of the geopolitical situation in which the victim was working, such as a peaceful country on behalf of the United States government or amid a war zone. Workers must forget what they know about traditional Workers’ Compensation benefits because contractors on military bases and around the world are subject to different rules. Due to the many legal complexities involved in filing a claim under the DBA, it is essential to hire an experienced maritime lawyer to ensure a fair outcome.

What is the Statute of Limitations?

When injured on the job, workers typically have 30 days to provide a written notice to their employer or supervisor of their injury. If an employer or the government is paying compensation without a formal award, workers have one year to file a subsequent claim to continue those payments. In the case of work-related illnesses, workers have two years to file the claim. If a worker was not aware of their illness, the statute of limitations does not start until the day they are made aware of the illness. There is also a special provision in the DBA that extends the statute of limitations if the contractor or the government did not properly report the injury or the dangers the worker was facing.

There are many claims that would be rejected because they fall outside of the statute of limitations. This provision ensures that claimants may file a claim for damages when they finally realize that there is a problem. Additionally, workers might file a Workers’ Compensation claim in their state of residence because they returned to work at home. The statute of limitations will begin at that point because it may be discovered that the injury or illness occurred when working overseas.

Are There Circumstances I Should Avoid?

After a worker has been injured in an accident overseas or on a defense base, they may be contacted by their employer, the government, the military, or a third-party attorney who wants to settle the case quickly. In some cases, workers may be advised not to file a claim because they do not qualify. Do not speak to these people and forward all phone calls or letters to our office for review. We will help workers file their claim if they fear retaliation in the workplace, have been told they do not qualify, or if they do not know what to do. If workers are denied, do not call to complain or send letters and emails. Anything said could be used to invalidate a claim. We know who to work with, how the claims process works, and how to negotiate with the government or government contractors.

Cape May Maritime Lawyers at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. Successfully Handle Claims Under the Defense Base Act

If you were injured in an accident on a military base while working for the U.S. government or other entity associated with the U.S. military, contact one of our Cape May maritime lawyers at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. For a free consultation, call us at 888-999-1962 or contact us online. Located in Philadelphia, Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and Pinehurst, North Carolina, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Cape May and Wildwood.