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Defense Base Act 101: where did it come from, why do we have it, what does it cover, and how does one qualify for a claim?

This article is intended to be a brief overview of the Defense Base Act (“DBA”) law. For more information on the DBA, please visit the Department of Labor website here.

Before the Defense Base Act, there was only the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA), a federal law passed in 1927 that provides for the payment of compensation, medical care, and vocational rehabilitation services to employees disabled from on-the-job injuries that occur on the navigable waters of the United States, or in areas customarily used in the loading, unloading, repairing, or building of a vessel. The LHWCA covers employees in traditional maritime occupations such as longshore workers, ship-repairers, shipbuilders or ship-breakers, and harbor construction workers. The Defense Base Act (DBA) is essentially an extension of the Longshore Act and is a federal law enacted in 1941 by Congress with its primary goal being to cover workers on military bases outside of the United States.defense-base-act-dba-service-page-300x145

The DBA provides workers’ compensation coverage to civilian employees working overseas on United States military bases or under contract with the United States government for public works or national defense. Civilian employees means not the soldiers at the base; the soldiers are working for their respective government entities whereas civilian employees work for private defense contractors. Administered by the US Department of Labor, it applies to all employees regardless of their nationality. Although the employer in the warzone may be an American company, the employees might be there from all over the world – including India, Uganda, Kenya, Bosnia, Columbia, and many more countries. All employers conducting contracts outside of the US are required to secure DBA insurance for their employees working overseas. Failure to comply with this requirement can result in the Employer facing severe penalties such as criminal prosecution, imprisonment, and/or hefty legal fines and restitution. The Act ensures that all workers receive benefits similar to those provided under state workers’ compensation laws, even when the workers are working outside of the United States.

How does one become eligible for a DBA claim? We’ve all heard the term innocent until proven guilty right? Well, the DBA has its own version of that phrase. Under the Longshore Act, section 20(a) provides that when a person (or eligible dependent if the claimant died) makes a DBA claim that he or she was injured or became ill during the course of an employment overseas, a court deciding the case will use Section 20(a) to presume that the Claimant’s case is compensable under the DBA. A legal presumption is something that a court will conclude is true until there is factual evidence to disprove it.

Essentially, if you were a civilian employee working for an employer overseas on a US military base and you received a work-related injury while performing your duties, then there is a presumption that you have a compensable/valid DBA claim. However, that presumption is rebuttable – meaning it can be disproven – so long as the insurance company investigates your claim and puts forward evidence showing that there is no injury or that working conditions did not exist that could have caused your injuries. Simply put, once the Court sees a claim and presumes it is true, then the employer, or the employer’s insurance carrier, has the burden to show that the employee’s injury or illness was not related to or a result of anything that occurred in the workplace. If your employer, or the employer’s insurance carrier, can prove you received your injury or illness from something else or that you don’t have any injury, then a court would most likely say you do not have a valid DBA claim. This rebuttal is usually done by the insurance company’s medical expert, which typically a doctor hired by the insurance company to evaluate the worker’s injury. It is not a high standard to meet.

What are the benefits provided by the Defense Base Act? In general, the benefits include medical, disability, and death benefits. The first type, medical benefits, are provided to cover necessary medical treatment related to a work-related injury or illness. These expenses include but are not limited to; doctor visits, hospital stays, surgeries, medications, physical therapy, hearing aids, and other services deemed reasonable and necessary.

The second type, disability benefits, are also awarded to individuals unable to work due to a work-related injury or illness and this can compensate for possible lost wages. The benefits are usually calculated through a percentage of the injured individuals average weekly wage and paid until the individual can return to work or reaches maximum medical improvement. There are different types of disability categories:

  • Temporary Total Disability (TTD): TTD is awarded when an individual is completely unable to work due to their work-related injury or illness, however they can be expected to recover and return to work eventually. TTD and TPD are determined by a physician.
  • Temporary Partial Disability (TPD): TPD is awarded when an injured individual can perform some of the work that is required of them, but the individual earns less than before the injury or illness. TTD and TPD are determined by a physician.
  • Permanent Total Disability (PTD): On rare occasions PTD is awarded on DBA claims. In these cases, the benefit is awarded when an individual is permanently unable to return to any type of meaningful and/or gainful employment due to their work-related injury in a warzone. These cases are severe.
    For example, a person who has lost the ability to move or have any sort of cognitive function would be awarded PTD.
  • Permanent Partial Disability (PPD): The most common form of disability benefit awarded is PPD. This benefit can be awarded when an individual suffers a permanent injury or illness but can still work in some capacity. The most common work-related injury or illness associated with PPD is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or “PTSD” for short. An attorney usually argues PTD and PPD using evidence such as medical records from their clients’ doctors.

The third and final aspect of benefit under the Defense Base Act pertains to death benefits. Individuals employed overseas at military installations often find themselves working in active war zones, confronting the harsh realities of conflict. In the unfortunate event of a claimant’s demise due to a work-related injury or illness, the DBA offers benefits to eligible dependents, including the surviving spouse and/or minor children. These benefits cover funeral expenses and provide ongoing financial assistance to the dependents. Payments to surviving minor children typically cease at the age of eighteen (18); however, as per the Department of Labor, benefits can be extended until the age of twenty-three (23) if the child is enrolled as a full-time student.

If you have more detailed questions, or if you believe that you are covered under the Defense Base Act, you should be sure to call the legal experts at Jo Ann Hoffman and Associates, P.A. today at 954-772-2644 for a FREE consultation. Helping the Injured is Our Passion!®



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