The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act
The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) is a federal law that provides payments for medical expenses, lost wages and rehabilitation services to longshore workers, harbor workers and other maritime workers who are injured on the job. The law also provides coverage where a worker suffers from a disease that is caused or made worse by the worker’s job conditions. Other laws extend LHWCA to certain private-industry works, including some workers who engage in the extraction of natural resources on the outer continental shelf, employees on US defense bases, and workers performing work under US defense or public-works contracts outside of the continental United States.
Injury and Death Benefits
If a worker covered by LHWCA dies as a result of a job-related injury, benefits are paid to the worker’s widow or widower, or other eligible survivors. LHWCA provides for funeral expenses up to $3,000. It also provides that a surviving spouse receives 50 percent of the deceased worker’s average weekly wages for the spouse’s life or until the spouse remarries. A death benefit wage award payment also can be made to dependent siblings, children, and/or grandchildren, but these payments end when the dependent child reaches 18 years old.
Smith v. Mt. Mitchell and the Definition of Child
A recent Benefits Review Board (BRB) case looked at the issue of who qualifies as a “child” and what it means for a child to be “dependent.” In the case (called Smith v. Mt. Mitchell, LLC, ___ BRBS ___), a worker who worked for several maritime employers allegedly was exposed to asbestos and welding fumes over a number of years. The worker died from lung disease and his spouse and mentally/physically disabled son filed for survivor benefits.
Under LHWCA, a “child” is someone under 18 years old. The term “child” can also includes someone over 18 years old if he or she is wholly dependent on the deceased worker and incapable of self-support because of a mental or physical disability. Additionally, the term can apply to someone over 18 if he or she is a student.
The BRB determined that the deceased worker’s son did not meet the definition of “child” in this case because the son was not “wholly dependent” upon the deceased worker for support. The BRB made this decision because, while the son received approximately $325/month from his deceased worker father, the son also received social security disability (SSD) benefits of $1,357.80/month (before deductions). The SSD payments were over three times greater than the amounts the son received from his father and so the BRB found that the son could not be deemed “wholly dependent” on his father. The BRB also found that, using an IRS definition, the son was not a “dependent” because his SSD payments had allowed the son to pay for over one-half of his own support.
As the Smith case shows, there are a lot of technicalities involved in obtaining benefits under LHWCA. An injured worker is required to follow several steps, including:
· Notifying his/her supervisor/employer representative immediately or as soon as possible;
· Seeking medical treatment, including completing a Request for Examination and/or Treatment, which authorizes medical treatment;
· Giving written notice of injury to the employer within 30 days of the work injury or within 30 days of becoming aware of the injury or disability; and
· Filing a claim for injury compensation benefits or funeral expenses.
Even if a worker follows the claim requirements, a worker’s claim may still be denied or the worker may not be paid benefits.
Contact a Florida Attorney for Help
If you or someone you know needs help obtaining longshore workers’ compensation benefits, call Sternberg / Forsythe, P.A. at 561..5660 for a free consultation. We serve clients in the greater Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Stuart and Cape Canaveral, FL areas.