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Federal Workers Compensation Laws

Summary: The United States Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act (L&HWCA), 33 USCA 901-952, was enacted into law in 1927, 16 years after the first state workers compensation law was passed. The federal act was designed to provide the benefit of workers compensation to employees (other than seamen) who work in maritime employment upon the navigable waters of the United States and who are usually considered outside the scope of state compensation laws. Even so, the purpose of this federal compensation law is no different than that of a state compensation law; namely, to compensate workers for injuries that affect their wage earning capabilities and that arise out of the workers’ employment.

The Jones act (46 USCA 688) is a federal statute, the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, that provides that a seaman injured in the course of his employment by the negligence of the owner, master, or fellow crew member can recover damages for his injuries. The act states that any seaman who suffers injury in the course of his employment may maintain an action for damages directly against the owners of the ship, and in the case of death, the seaman’s personal representative can maintain an action for wrongful death. Jurisdiction in such actions is under the court of the district in which the defendant employer resides or in which the principal office is located.

This article offers a discussion of these two federal workers compensation laws.

Topics covered: Coverage Under the Longshore and Harbor Workers Act Liability for compensation Third Party Actions Compensation The L&HWCA and the WC policy State or Federal Coverage The Jones Act Scope of Coverage Jurisdiction of the Jones Act

Coverage under the Longshore and Harbor Workers Act

The coverage of the L&HWCA applies to compensation for disability or death of an employee if the disability or death results from injury occurring upon the navigable waters of the United States, including any adjoining pier, wharf, dry dock, terminal, marine railway, or other adjoining area customarily used in the loading, unloading, repairing, dismantling, or building of a vessel.

One of the original problems that arose with the L&HWCA was that anyone performing work however remotely connected to maritime employment attempted to obtain the benefits of the act. Therefore, in order to curb the jurisdictional scope of the act, not only does the coverage paragraph of the L&HWCA contain certain exclusions, but the definition of “employee” is limited to specific classes of workers.

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