Defense Base Act

Benefits for Government-Employed Workers Injured Overseas

The Defense Base Act was passed in 1941 as an extension of the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA) to provide benefits to civilians employed by the U.S. to work overseas. 

The amendment applies coverage to both U.S. and foreign nationals who are involved in public work for the United States outside of the country's borders. The DBA provides financial remedies to compensate injured workers for any injuries or deaths that may occur as a result of or during the course of their employment.

Who Is Covered by the Defense Base Act?

The Defense Base Act (DBA) extends its protections to a broad range of civilian employees undertaking work outside the United States. Coverage spans those working on U.S. military bases, under U.S. government contracts related to public works, national defense, or war-related projects, and those engaged in maritime or offshore activities in connection with these endeavors. This encompasses contractors, subcontractors, and workers on offshore platforms or vessels.

Specific scenarios or locations under which individuals might be protected by the DBA include:

  • Defense bases procured by the U.S. from foreign governments.
  • Lands situated outside the U.S. boundaries, specifically earmarked for military purposes.
  • Territories or possessions engaging in a contract with the U.S. centered around public work projects.
  • Overseas public work activities not encompassed by the categories above.
  • Contracted tasks outside the U.S., sanctioned and funded by the U.S. government.
  • Welfare or humanitarian services outside the U.S., greenlit by the DOD for the welfare of U.S. military personnel.
  • Maritime and offshore operations that serve U.S. government projects, including work on ships and drilling rigs.

DBA Coverage for Off-Duty Injuries

Since employees working overseas under the Defense Base Act are far away from their families, friends, and homes, their recreational activity and involvement is different than it would be at home. Due to the nature of the work, all recreational activity participated in during their contract overseas is considered part of their employment relationship. 

While not every claim arising out of injury or death caused off-duty will be compensable, there are certain recreational and off-work activities that may fall under the Zone of Special Danger doctrine.

The Zone of Special Danger is a legal principle related to the Defense Base Act. This doctrine extends the coverage of the DBA to injuries or fatalities that occur while a civilian employee is in an area or environment of increased risk due to their employment, even if the specific activity they were engaged in at the time of the injury was not directly related to their job duties. The Zone of Special Danger doctrine traces its origins to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of O'Leary v. Brown-Pacific-Maxon, Inc., 340 U.S. 504 (1951). In this case, the Court addressed the issue of whether an injury suffered by a worker, while off-duty, could still be compensable under the LHWCA.

In the O'Leary case, a worker employed on a U.S. Navy construction project on the Island of Guam drowned when he attempted to save two swimmers in distress. The incident occurred while the contractor was off-duty. The Court held that, despite the fact he was not engaged in direct work-related activities at the time of his death, the injury occurred within a "zone of special danger" related to his employment. As a result, the injury was compensable under the extension of the Defense Base Act under the LHWCA. The worker’s mother was awarded a death benefit.

Defense Base Act Benefits

Benefits of the Defense Base Act apply whether the injury occurred while you were on the clock or not. The injured worker receives two-thirds of their average weekly wages; but, if the accident results in a death, benefits from the DBA still apply and will be paid to the survivors at one-half of the average weekly wages at the time of death. Both permanent disability and death benefits awarded under the Defense Base Act apply and are paid out for life.

To find out more about the DBA and how it may affect you as an offshore worker, contact Arnold & Itkin. Your consultation is free and confidential.

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