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Longshore & Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act

The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) is a federal workers’ compensation law. Under the Act, most dockside workers who are employed in shipyards, piers, wharves, shipping terminals, or other vessel-related activities are eligible to recover disability payments and compensation for medical bills when injured. In the event of their demise, the LHWCA also allows for wrongful death benefits to be paid to the surviving spouse or children.

Importance of the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act

The LHWCA was first enacted in 1927 to cover most maritime and dock workers not otherwise protected by the Jones Act or other workers’ compensation laws. It was amended in 1972 to extend coverage to maritime workers on land. The act does not cover employees who perform clerical, administrative, data processing, or food service work in these job sites.

If you are a longshore or harbor worker and you have been seriously injured in a maritime accident or have contracted a serious occupational disease while working, your employer may be held liable. The compensation you may receive under the LHWCA can help you maintain financial stability and cover the costs of your medical treatments while you recover from a serious injury.

Additionally, the Act allows an injured worker or surviving family member to sue a third party for negligence in causing the injury or death. In such a case, an injured worker may be entitled to monetary compensation for past and future medical costs, loss of earning capacity, physical limitations, and physical pain. Families of longshore and harbor workers killed in accidents may be able to pursue compensation for the wrongful death of their loved ones.

Who Is Covered by the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act?

Longshore workers, maintenance specialists, shipbuilders, ship-breakers, loaders, and unloaders are generally covered under the LHWCA. Employees who meet those requirements are generally eligible for temporary or permanent disability payments, depending on the nature of their injuries, as well as medical treatment, transportation, and rehabilitation efforts.

LHWCA benefits are available to maritime employees who pass both “status” and “situs” tests. The status test has to do with the type of work an employee performs. Under the LHWCA, at least some of an employee’s duties must be considered “maritime” duties. The situs (a Latin word meaning location) test relates to the location where the employee generally performs their duties. Employees who work on, near, or around the water are typically covered.

What Benefits Does the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act Provide?

Under the Act, injured employees are considered disabled when they can’t earn the same wages they did prior to the injury or illness. The LHWCA provides numerous benefits to aid individuals as they recover, including:

  • Partial wages, at approximately two-thirds of weekly earnings before the injury
  • Medical bills
  • Disability payments for partial or total disability for either a temporary timeframe or permanently
  • Vocational rehabilitation assistance
  • Survivor benefits for families if the employee dies

Partial vs. Total Disability

When an employee is unable to perform some or most of their job duties while they recover, they are considered partially disabled. They may be able to do light-duty work according to their doctor’s orders. Partially disabled workers might continue in another position with the same company or temporarily transfer to another employer while they heal.

Total disability happens when the person cannot do any tasks associated with their job due to their injury or illness. They will still receive benefits but spend time recovering instead of coming to work.

Temporary vs. Permanent Disability

The majority of disabilities employees suffer will be temporary, allowing them to concentrate on getting better before returning to their jobs. Determining temporary disability is based on their doctor’s certification that the worker is unable to work while they heal.

Permanent disability is determined after the person’s condition has stabilized and they have reached Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI). This means they have recovered as much as they are going to and will not improve in the future. If they are not able to return to work, they are permanently disabled.

How Partial, Total, Temporary, and Permanent Factors Affect Disability Payments

Payments through the LHWCA can be for any of four versions of disability:

  • Temporary partial disability: The employee is partly disabled from work for a short period of time.
  • Temporary total disability: The employee cannot perform any work for a short period of time.
  • Permanent partial disability: The employee will be partly disabled for the rest of their work life.
  • Permanent total disability: The employee cannot perform any work for the rest of their work life.

These categories govern the partial weekly wage payments, which are generally available for as long as the disability lasts. Most disability wages are paid at ⅔ of whatever your weekly wages were, up to a limit based on the National Average Weekly Wage (NAWW). Temporary partial benefits cannot exceed five years.

Vocational Rehabilitation Assistance

When a worker is permanently disabled, they are eligible for vocational rehabilitation under the LHWCA. This assistance helps them get back to gainful employment faster and with wages as close as possible to what they earned previously. The benefits may include skills testing, training, and job placement aid.

To qualify, the injured worker must be currently receiving compensation payments due to their on-the-job injury. They must also be unable to resume their previous duties because of their disability, and there must be positions available for them within their area.

Survivor Benefits

In some instances, an employee may be killed immediately during an offshore accident. Others may struggle to recover from their injuries before succumbing to them. Regardless of when the death occurs, if the injury is found to have caused, sped up, or contributed to the death of a maritime worker, longshoreman, or harbor worker, their survivors are entitled to benefits.

Families will receive a $3,000 funeral allowance. They will also receive part of the employee’s Average Weekly Wage (AWW) in the following variations:

  • Widow or widower: Spouses will be entitled to one-half of the AWW for the rest of their life or until they remarry. If they have children, they receive an additional one-sixth of the wages.
  • Children (when there is no spouse): One child is entitled to one-half the AWW and two or more may receive two-thirds. These benefits continue until the child is 18, or age 23 if they are a full-time student.
  • Adult children: If the adult child is disabled and unable to support themselves, they are eligible for death benefits.

What To Do When You Aren’t Covered Under The LHWCA

The LHWCA does not apply to all employees in the maritime industry, leaving some without benefits. In addition, if a third party causes the injury or illness, the insurance company may deny coverage. Instead of being left with no recourse, workers may file a third-party lawsuit to seek financial relief.

Filing a third-party lawsuit offers the potential for a greater settlement than the LHWCA may offer. The LHWCA provides partial wages and medical payments. A third-party lawsuit opens the door to seeking repayment of all the wages lost while recovering, all medical and other economic expenses, plus compensation for the emotional impact of the injury. The psychological toll and its related non-economic losses must be addressed for a full recovery.

Employees can work with a skilled maritime injury attorney to understand their legal options and the potential for their case. When vendors, contractors, or others are responsible, a lawsuit can hold them accountable. However, advantageously interpreting the law requires a law firm with experience in negotiation and litigation for a successful outcome.

The Jones Act

An individual covered by the LHWCA may have the option of filing for those benefits while also filing a third-party lawsuit. However, the LHWCA was created to fill the gap for on-the-job injury benefits for those who are not ship workers. Those who work on vessels in navigable waters (known as seamen and sailors) can turn to the Jones Act to seek financial recovery.

Originally called the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (46 U.S.C. § 30104), this federal law applies to those doing ship’s work for whom the LHWCA does not apply. The Jones Act provides these employees the opportunity to pursue lawsuits for compensation when they are injured while working. Again, filing a lawsuit under this law is best approached with the guidance and legal representation of a seasoned maritime injury lawyer.

How Our Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act Attorneys Can Help

If you have been injured while working as a longshoreman or harbor worker, it’s important to contact a knowledgeable Houston maritime accident lawyer. You need someone on your side who is well-versed in all legal matters related to federal maritime laws, including the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act.

At The Krist Law Firm, P.C., our compassionate Houston maritime accident lawyers will be with you and your family every step of the way. When an accident leaves you temporarily or permanently injured, our team will fight to ensure that the employer and / or third party responsible for your injuries is held accountable and that you receive fair compensation.

Our maritime accident lawyers have represented Texas residents injured in the Gulf of Mexico, at ports of call in several Gulf Coast states, and in shipping terminals off the coast of Texas. Contact our Houston personal injury lawyers to schedule a free consultation today.