If your job involves work on or near U.S. waters, there’s a good chance you don’t have to rely on your state’s workers’ compensation program to receive medical and wage benefits. For many injured maritime workers, the United States Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act provides various kinds of support to help them recover from work-related injuries. Your access (LHWCA) to benefits and medical care under this longshore act depends on the specific details of your case, but the following article can help you with the basics of getting benefits.
Workers Covered by the U.S. Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Act
In general, the longshore harbor workers’ compensation act applies to individuals who work on the United States’ navigable waters. This longshoreman act also applies to those who work in areas that are near U.S. waters and are used for maritime activities, such as loading and repairing watercraft. Workers who can receive benefits under the LHWCA include:
- Harbor construction workers,
- Longshore workers,
- Shipbuilders, and
LHWCA benefits do not apply unless you suffered an injury while you were working on navigable waters or at a close and related area, such as a dock, terminal, wharf, or loading area. Also, crewmembers of watercraft, workers who were intoxicated when injured, workers who intended to cause injury, and government employees don’t have access to LHWCA benefits. Certain employees who receive workers’ compensation benefits through state programs don’t have access to LHWCA benefits either.
Types of Longshoreman and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act Benefits
A recent National Security Council report found that the top three causes of work injuries that affect individuals’ work abilities are overexertion, falls, and contact with equipment. As a maritime worker, you know that there are countless work situations in which you might suffer these kinds of injuries and you need some kind of protection. The LHWCA provides protection for injured workers by requiring employers to pay for medical benefits, wage loss benefits, and vocational rehabilitation benefits when appropriate. The Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs and the Division of Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation (DLHWC) oversee the administration of LHWCA benefits.
Once you’ve suffered a maritime work injury covered by the LHWCA, you have the right to receive any reasonable and necessary medical care related to your work injuries. Unlike many state systems, you can choose your own doctor after suffering a maritime work injury. However, you cannot change your doctor unless you get permission from your employer, your employer’s insurance, or the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP).
Wage Loss Benefits
Many individuals suffer work injuries severe enough to prevent them from fulfilling their regular work duties. Some employers can accommodate the limitations of your work injury, but some can’t. If you can’t earn the same wage you did before your work injury, this is called a “disability” under the LHWCA. And under the LHWCA, you can receive compensation for your work-related disabilities. Compensation benefits for wage loss under the LHWCA include:
- Temporary total disability (TTD) to replace part of your wages when you’re still in recovery and your injury prevents you from doing any kind of work;
- Temporary partial disability (TPD) to replace part of the difference in your wages when you’re still in recovery and your work injury requires you to work less than usual;
- Permanent partial disability (PPD) to compensate you when you can still work, but you suffer from permanent impairment caused by your work injury;
- Permanent total disability (PTD) to compensate you for a work-related permanent impairment that prevents you from working at all.
You receive PPD or PTD after you reach maximum medical improvement (MMI). MMI doesn’t mean that you’re cured of the effects of your work injury. Rather, MMI means that the effects of your work injury are not likely to improve with further medical treatment. All disability benefits are based on the average weekly wage (AWW) you earned at the time of your injury.
Vocational Rehabilitation Benefits
Permanent total disability is not the answer for every maritime worker who suffers a permanently debilitating injury. Sometimes an injured worker has the right to receive vocational rehabilitation benefits under the LHWCA. Vocational rehabilitation benefits help injured workers find new jobs or adjust their old jobs. The goal is to help injured workers earn wages comparable to what they earned before their injuries. These benefits can include:
- Job development,
- Job modification,
- Job placement,
- Skills testing, and
If you’re eager to return to work after a debilitating injury, but you’re not finding hope in your prior position, an experienced longshore and harbor worker attorney can request vocational rehabilitation benefits for you.
Making a Longshoremen and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act Claim
After suffering a maritime work injury, you should immediately seek medical care for any emergency needs. Once you’ve addressed your emergency medical needs, you need to notify your employer and the OWCP about your injuries quickly.
Reporting Your Injuries to Your Employer
The LHWCA requires that you report work-related injuries to your employer in writing within 30 days of injury. If you don’t report your injuries within 30 days, you might not receive all of the benefits you need.
Requesting Compensation Benefits
If your workplace injury prevents you from earning your full wages, you need to file an Employee’s Claim for Compensation with the OWCP. If you’ve suffered an acute workplace injury, you have one year to file your claim. If you’ve suffered an occupational injury or disease (e.g., carpal tunnel syndrome), you have two years to file your claim. If you miss your deadline to request compensation benefits, don’t give up on your claim because you can still receive medical benefits after the deadline.
Fighting Benefit Denials
Maritime employers and their insurance companies don’t immediately accept all claims for LHWCA benefits. If your employer denies you benefits, you can attend a conference in front of an examiner at your OWCP suboffice. But note that recommendations from the OWCP suboffices are not binding on your employer or their insurance. If your employer or their insurance doesn’t comply with an OWCP recommendation, you can attend a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Determinations of an ALJ are binding.
Fight for a Good Recovery with the Help of a Good Attorney
Workers’ compensation benefits for maritime workers are tricky, complex, and necessary for many. At Grossman Attorneys at Law, we understand the intricacies of maritime injury law, and we are dedicated to relieving the plights of injured workers. We are tenacious and compassionate advocates who want to make sure your voice is heard in our offices, at the negotiation table, and in the courtroom. Call us when you need us. Our consultations are free. You can contact us online or call us at 561-368-8048.
What If My Family Member Died Due to a Maritime Work Injury?
If you’re an eligible survivor, you can file for death benefits (or survivor benefits). These benefits include funeral expenses and regular payments based on your family member’s average weekly wage.
What Information Do I Need to Provide to File a Claim?
Generally, you need medical records, wage records, and proof of paying for injury-related expenses to receive proper benefits. If you are seeking survivor benefits, you also need records proving your relationship to the maritime worker and their funeral costs.
How Do I Send My Paperwork When Filing a Claim?
If you’re filing a new claim, you can send your paperwork by fax, by the online SEAPortal, or by mail to the DLHWC office in Jacksonville, Florida.
What If I Discover that I Have a Work-Related Occupational Injury or Disease After I Retire?
You can still file a claim for permanent partial disability benefits, which are based on your level of permanent impairment.
Do I Have to Pay Taxes on My Benefits?
Longshoreman and harbor workers’ act benefits are not taxable, but you must report the benefits on your returns.
What If My Employer or My Employer’s Insurance Company Doesn’t Have the Money to Pay for My Benefits?
Many maritime workers whose employers can’t pay for their LHWCA benefits have access to benefits from the federal Special Fund.
I Already Filed for Workers’ Compensation Through a State Agency, Do I Have Access to Benefits Under the Longshore Act?
Many recipients of state workers’ compensation benefits still have access to LHWCA benefits. But note that LHWCA benefits are reduced by the amount of state benefit you receive.