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Walking the fine line of longshore and harbor workers’ comp

by | Nov 17, 2016 | Admiralty And Maritime Law

In terms of employment law, you might say that longshoremen and harbor workers occupy a place between seamen and land-based employees. Because they are part of a vast maritime industry, but do not necessarily go out to sea, the federal government created the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act in 1927 to protect this niche class of hardworking men and women.

The LHWCA differs from both the Jones Act that protects seaman and Tennessee’s workers’ compensation insurance. Unlike these protections, the LHEWCA generally gives injured workers the ability to be fully compensated if they suffer a loss. There are fine lines between these types of worker protections.

Who is a Longshoreman or Harbor Worker?

Longshoremen and harbor workers are part of the maritime industry. They are not considered seamen because they do not meet the Jones Act standard of working on a vessel at least 30 percent of the time. On the other hand, they are not completely land-based employees either because their duties are directly related to maritime commerce. That tends to exclude them from Tennessee’s workers’ compensation regulations.

To be considered a longshoreman or harbor worker, you generally need to perform duties such as:

  • Loading and unloading vessels
  • Performing ship repair and maintenance
  • Constructing or demolishing ships

Other jobs may include:

  • Driving ship container trucks
  • Repairing ship container trucks and machinery

Because the LHWCA is intended to cover those involved in direct maritime work, it generally excludes office employees and those in the recreational boating and fish farming industries.

How Compensation Differs

In the State of Tennessee, if you are injured on the job, workers’ compensation pays two-thirds of your salary until you can return. Under the LHWCA, you also receive two-thirds of your salary. Land-based employees generally cannot recoup damages because of a work-related injury regardless of how it happened. However, like the Jones Act, the LHWCA gives workers the ability to file negligence lawsuits in a slightly different fashion.

Under the Jones Act, seamen can bring lawsuits against their employers for not maintaining a reasonably safe work environment. For longshoremen, third-party lawsuits can be filed if your injury was the result of someone else’s negligence. But you will have to prove your case much like land-based negligence lawsuits.

Say, for example, you drive a lift into a cargo hold and unsecured pallets fall on you. Obviously, those pallets should have been stable. Your attorney would then file a separate lawsuit against the vessel owner, not necessarily your employer, to get fair compensation for your injury and loss. The LHWCA makes getting compensation a bit more complicated, but the protections are far better than the state system.

Employers that carry both LHWCA and state workers’ compensation may try to persuade you to go through the state system by saying it’s the same money but faster. However, you could be cutting yourself off from being fully compensated. The good news is that attorney’s fees are paid for by the insurance company or employer. So, before making any decisions, it is generally a good idea to get legal advice.


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