Federal Court of Appeals Affirms Car Accident Award Under the Defense Base Act for Widow of Government Contract Employee

Workers’ compensation may be available in different forms, depending on who your employer might be. If you work in construction, your claim would likely be filed through your employer’s insurance company and benefits reviewed through the boards and hearing officers under Massachusetts’ Workers’ Compensation Act. If you are employed as a civilian defense contractor through the United States Government, and are hurt or killed while working in construction or work related to national defense, war activities, or a public use of the U.S., you or a qualified family member can file a claim through the Defense Base Act (DBA), which is an extension of the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. Like state workers’ compensation claims, the injury or death-causing accident generally occurs during the course of employment. However, under the DBA, an exception exists for injuries caused while in a “zone of special danger,” where it isn’t necessary for the injury to occur during work hours or during activities that would ultimately benefit the employer.

In Battelle Memorial Institute v. Dicecca (No. 14-1742), the First Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed whether an injury occurred in a zone of special danger in an appeal by an employer and its insurance company. The petitioners in this case argued against the award of death benefits under the DBA granted by the Benefits Review Board (Board) to the widow of a contract employee in Tbilisi, Georgia. Her husband was allowed a special stipend for vouchers to use on taxis to get around the city for any purpose, whether professional or personal, and was provided an extra 25% salary supplement for “hardship pay” for working in conditions that are unusually difficult or dangerous, or facilities that are inadequate. The man was traveling to a grocery store 20 minutes away when another driver hit his taxi and killed him. The wife filed suit for death benefits under the DBA, pointing to the special pay allotted for dangerous conditions as support for her claim, in addition to the perpetual “on call” nature of her spouse’s job.

The First Circuit Court of Appeals looked to case precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court regarding “zone of special danger” awards. The circuit court felt that prior case law gave a lot of deference to the determination of the agency. The administrative law judge and the Board both felt the special pay afforded by the employer supported the “zone of special danger” conclusion and the award of death benefits. The circuit court agreed with these determinations, disagreeing with the petitioners’ argument that the determination must mirror standard workers’ compensation benefits, which require a tie between the injury-causing activity and work performed at the benefit of the employer. The prior reviewing bodies’ decision was affirmed, and the award to the widow was upheld.

The Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorneys at the Law Office of James K. Meehan have the experience and expertise you and your family need to obtain and maximize benefits. For a free, confidential consultation today, contact our office at 508.822.6600.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Supreme Court Keeps Premises Liability Case Law Favorable for Injured Individuals, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog, May 26, 2015
The Path to Damages after a Massachusetts Car Accident Can be a Complex, Winding One, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog, May 22, 2015