DEFENSE BASE ACT STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS
Congress enacted the Defense Base Act in 1941. The Defense Base Act (DBA) Statute guarantees workers’ compensation benefits to civilians working outside the United States on U.S. military bases or under a contract with the U.S.
Under the DBA Statute, employers must obtain workers’ compensation insurance coverage. They must also pay for disability compensation and medical benefits to employees and death benefits to eligible survivors of employees. The DBA is an extension of the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA). Therefore, eligible employees must follow the claim procedures of the LHWCA, including its statute of limitations.
At our Defense Base Act Law Firm, we are here to support you during your injury recovery. This page explains the process and timeline for filing a DBA claim.
Who Is Eligible Under the DBA?
Employees covered under the DBA can receive disability, medical, and death benefits if they are injured or killed in the course of employment. The DBA ensures that you or your family receive compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and funeral expenses.
All employees performing the following work are covered by DBA, regardless of nationality:
- Private employment on U.S. military bases or any land used for U.S. military purposes, including U.S. territories and possessions;
- Employment on public works contracts with any U.S. agency, including construction and service contracts associated with national defense or war activities;
- Employment on contracts funded under the Foreign Assistance Act, if outside of the United States; or
- Providing welfare or similar services for the benefit of the Armed Forces, e.g. the USO.
Eligible employees are typically civilian workers supporting the U.S. military or U.S. contracts outside the continental United States. The DBA ensures that the workers’ compensation insurance required by the LHWCA applies to these employees’ injuries.
What Is the Claims Process Under the DBA?
The first step is to give your employer written notice of the injury. The law expects you to give notice to your employer within 30 days of the injury or of when you become aware of a disability. Your entitlement to compensation benefits may be jeopardized if you do not report the injury within the timeframe. The law allows late notice if you have a good reason or if the employer is not prejudiced.
Once you notify your employer, the next step is to file a claim with the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP). Your employer should also notify the OWCP and its insurance company to begin making benefit payments. If your employer disagrees with the amount, you can request a formal hearing with the Office of Administrative Law Judges. You can then appeal to the Benefits Review Board and, thereafter, to the U.S. District Court or to the U.S. Court of Appeals.
What Is the DBA Statute of Limitations?
You have one year after an injury to file a disability claim with OWCP. If a doctor diagnoses you with an “occupational disease” caused by your employment, you have two years to file a claim. This allows for notice of an occupational disease caused by employment, such as PTSD or lung cancer, that can develop over a long period of time.
The two years begin to run from the date you first become aware of the relationship between the occupational disease, your disability, and your employment. If you fail to file within the timeframe, the employer may object and deny compensation benefits should you become disabled due to the injury. The time limit only applies to disability compensation. No time limit applies to a claim for medical benefits.
What Is “Tolling” of the Statute of Limitations?
Equitable “tolling” is an extension of the statute of limitations. The time does not begin to run until an employee realizes their rights under the act.
There are several reasons why an injured employee may have the statute of limitations tolled. For example, tolling applies in the case of occupational diseases, where the employee does not immediately realize they were injured. Tolling also covers cases where an employer failed to notify the employee of their rights under the Act or did not notify OWCP of the employee’s injury in a timely manner.
If you can prove that extraordinary circumstances kept you from timely filing, despite your diligent pursuit of your rights, tolling may apply to your case.
How Can an Attorney Help Me?
While the Defense Base Act statute of limitations appears very strict, many circumstances can extend the timeframe for filing your claim. When you contact an attorney experienced with the DBA and the LHWCA, we’ll help ensure your claim is filed on time. We can negotiate with your employer’s insurance company or with the OWCP. Congress wrote the DBA to help those who are injured on the job.
When you trust our firm with your DBA claim, we’ll be here to guide you through the process. Our attorneys will advocate for you until you receive the benefits that you deserve.