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What is the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act?

Container cargo ship The Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA) was originally passed by Congress to provide a legal framework through which riverboat crew members, certain harbor employees and professional stevedores, could seek compensation for injuries sustained while on the job.

Congress has revised and amended the LHWCA so as to broaden the pool of people to which the act might apply including certain teamsters, heavy equipment operators and other land-based marine support personnel.

In Sun Ship v. Pennsylvania, 447 U.S. 715 (1980), the U.S. Supreme Court held that the LHWCA had "concurrent jurisdiction" with other workers compensation schemes and that certain employees injured on land might seek compensation through the LHWCA or through any other law that could apply to their situation. In short, the LHWCA is a worker's compensation regime specifically tailored to longshoremen, though it is just one (and not the only) source of potential compensation for a worker injured while acting as a riverboat crewman, stevedore or other employee in the maritime and maritime support industries.

What Does the LHWCA Provide for?

LHWCA allows workers who are injured while working in a harbor or on a riverboat to recover two-thirds of their lost wages while they are recovering, plus the reasonable medical expenses.

After the injured party has recovered, the LHWCA also allows that party to seek a permanent award for lost "earning capacity."

An award for lost "earning capacity" compensates the injured party for the difference between their salary before the injury, and the reduced amount they can expect to earn after their recovery.

The LHWCA also allows the injured party to seek expenses related to job retraining. The LHWCA is critical for the protection of not only longshoremen and other maritime support workers, but their families too.

Who is Covered by the LHWCA?

As mentioned above, the LHWCA was originally enacted to protect longshoremen and riverboat workers. Currently, there are a number of "extensions" that significantly expand the number of people to whom the LHWCA might apply. Included in this number are those covered by the "Defense Base Act" which applies the LHWCA to civilian employees working on shore-based military installations like navy harbors and shipyards.

Another big expansion to the LHWCA came with the passage of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA), which applies the LHWCA to those employed on stationary platforms on the outer continental shelf (operated by the oil and natural gas industry).

Who is Excluded from the LHWCA?

Generally, anyone who was injured while intoxicated or due to their intentionally wrongful acts (like starting a fight at work) is excluded from the LHWCA in seeking compensation for their injuries. Also, certain employee classes like sailors and deckhands on the high seas are excluded because other laws specifically cover them (i.e. the Jones Act). Furthermore, in certain circumstances the fact that a person may be covered by a land based workers’ compensation law might disqualify them for coverage under the LHWCA. Consult an experienced maritime attorney to be sure.

If you or a loved one have been injured while working on or near the water, you may be covered by the LHWCA. To find out if the LHWCA, or any maritime law applies to your claim—contact the maritime personal injury experts at Anderson Blanda & Saltzman.

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