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Defense Base Act

The Defense Base Act was passed in 1941 as an extension of the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA) to provide workers' compensation benefits to civilian workers who are employed by the United States 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 a wrongful death that may occur as a result of or during the course of employment.

Who is Covered by the Defense Base Act?

If you meet any of the following criteria and are injured during while on the job, you are covered:

  • A defense base acquired by the U.S. from a foreign government
  • Lands outside of the U.S. owned or used for military purposes
  • Any territory or possession under a contract with the U.S. for the purpose of public work
  • Any public work outside of the country that is not covered by the above category
  • Contract work outside the U.S. that is approved and financed by the U.S. government
  • Welfare services outside of the U.S. authorized by the Department of Defense for U.S. troops

Benefits of the Defense Base Act

Benefits of the Defense Base Act apply whether the injury occurred while you were on the clock or not. The injured worker receives 2/3 of their average weekly wages; but, if the accident results in a death, benefits from the Defense Base Act still apply and will be paid to the survivors at ½ 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.

Zone of Special Danger Doctrine

In 1962, a legal concept known as the Zone of Special Danger doctrine was created by a decision in the case Self v. Hanson, 305 F.2d 699, 702 (9th Cir. 1962). This doctrine allows for the coverage of some injuries sustained outside of regularly assigned job duties. Although proving employer liability in these cases is difficult, the doctrine states that is not impossible.

Furthermore, since employees working overseas under the Defense Base Act are far away from their families, friends, and home, 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.

Have you been injured overseas while working as an employee of the United States government? Contact Arnold & Itkin LLP today to learn more about your workers' compensation rights.

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