How the Zone of Special Danger Doctrine Works Under the Defense Base Act

zone of special danger doctrine

The Defense Base Act (“the Act”) is a law that extends the Longshore Act. The Act ensures workers’ compensation benefits for civilian contractors working at military bases outside the United States.

When you go to work overseas, you don’t usually think about what will happen if you’re injured. Because you’re a civilian, you likely haven’t planned for your family if you die while on the job.

The Act provides compensation for your medical bills if you are injured and disability payments if you cannot work. In addition, the Act pays death benefits to compensate for your family’s losses if you pass away while on the job. 

What Is the Zone of Special Danger Doctrine?

Under traditional workers’ compensation, an injured person may only receive compensation if the injury occurred during the scope of employment.

If your injury occurred outside the scope of your employment, such as during a recreational activity, horseplay, or something against company policy, traditional workers’ compensation is not available.

The Zone of Special Danger Doctrine expands the scope of employment for workers in remote and dangerous locations.

The “zone of special danger” philosophy is simple: overseas labor frequently occurs in severe, dangerous situations where there is no escape from the perils of the environment. A high-risk environment includes a war zone or national defense construction project.

When your employer pays you to travel to a location posing an uncommon danger, the Act even covers recreational activities. If you live and work in a zone of special danger, the Act ensures workers’ compensation for your injury if it would not have occurred but for your job.

What Injuries are Covered Under the Zone of Special Danger Doctrine?

The majority of claims filed under the Act are for injuries received while the worker is “on duty.”

Nonetheless, the zone of special danger rule captures a broad range of injuries. When a person lives and works in the same unsafe environment, the question of whether the activity was in the scope of employment gets more complicated.

In those circumstances, determining what originates from and is in the course of employment may be a challenge for a judge to decide.

Although each case is different, these prior claims might give you a sense of the injuries that are covered under the Act:

In these cases, the Supreme Court recognized that employees in remote locations have limited options for recreational and social activities. Overseas workers are in different circumstances than employees working within the safety of the United States.

As a result, the Court explicitly said that “off-duty” injuries induced by purely personal acts, social activities, and leisure constitute a part of the foreign employment connection and are compensable under the Act.

What Injuries Are Excluded Under the Zone of Special Danger Doctrine?

While the court expanded the Act’s covered injuries, the courts have also limited its applicability.

The zone of special danger will not apply to an injury occurring while performing an activity “thoroughly disconnected” from employment. Courts have excluded injuries including auto-erotic asphyxiation, voluntary participation in a murder, and injuries due to cosmetic face creams.

What Compensation Does the Zone of Special Danger Doctrine Provide?

If you are injured or unable to return to work (temporarily, partially, or permanently), the Act provides disability compensation and medical benefits to employees working overseas on government contracts.

The Act calculates disability benefits based on the employee’s Average Weekly Wage (AWW) at the time of injury. In addition, the Act also ensures death benefits to eligible survivors of these employees.

Finally, the employer’s workers’ compensation should cover the cost of medical transportation or repatriation for medical care (if necessary). 

How Long Do I Have to File a Zone of Special Danger Doctrine Claim?

You have one year from the date of the injury to submit a claim for compensation using Form LS-203 (Employee’s Claim for Compensation).

Suppose you’ve experienced an “occupational injury or illness,” like PTSD, which doesn’t necessarily appear immediately. In that case, you have two years from the appearance of the injury to file a claim.

If your loved one passes away while on the job and you wish to receive death benefits, the Act requires you to give written notice of the employee’s death to the employer on Form LS-201 (Notice of Employee’s Injury or Death) within 30 days.

Then, you must file a written claim for compensation on Form LS-262 (Claim for Death Benefits) within one year after the date of the employee’s death.

How Can A Lawyer Help with a Zone of Special Danger Doctrine Claim?

If you were injured while working on a military base or government contract overseas, you deserve to receive compensation.

The most significant thing an experienced Defense Base Act attorney can do is help you collect evidence to support your claim. The timeline for filing claims under the Act is short and strict.

Your attorney can help you explain the connection between the appearance of an occupational injury and the original incident. They’ll work to convince the judge that the Act covers your injury.

When you hire Grossman Attorneys At Law to help with your zone of special danger claim, you’ll receive the personal attention you deserve and an attorney who out-prepares everyone else. When you have questions, you’ll reach your attorney (not a paralegal). Don’t wait—call our office or reach us online today to discuss your claim.

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