The U.S. Longshoreman and Harbor Worker’s Compensation Act (Act) was enacted to create a uniform system to compensate longshoremen and harbor workers for workplace injuries that did not depend on the precise site of his or her injury. However, the Act states that such compensation will be provided “only if the disability or death results from an injury occurring upon the navigable waters of the United States.”

Given this apparent territorial limitation, would a longshoremen or harbor worker injured on a foreign shoreline be covered by the Act? Under the right circumstances, the answer is yes.

In one case, for example, a court held that an injury suffered by a citizen of the United States, whose employer was based in the United States, and who was living and working aboard a U.S. flagged barge, was covered by the Act, even though the injury occurred in the territorial waters off Sakhalin Island, Russia.

In this case, the court rejected the employee’s argument that the Act did not apply because his injury did not occur upon the navigable waters of the United States. The court noted that the term “navigable waters of the United States” was not defined in the Act. Importantly, the court found legal precedent supporting the position that the Act’s protection does not stop where the high seas begin, which is generally three miles offshore.

Additionally, the court cited two significant reasons to conclude that the Act applies extraterritorially. First, the court reasoned that the purpose of providing a uniform compensation system would be frustrated by limiting the Act to territorial application. Second, the court noted that the Director of the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs of the Department of Labor, which is the policymaker designated by the Secretary of Labor to administer the Act, has consistently interpreted the Act to overcome any presumption against extraterritoriality.

Consequently, the court held that in a case which did not involve any choice of law issues, and which involved an employer, an employee and a vessel based in the United States, the employee’s workplace injury meets the Act’s situs requirements for exclusive coverage.

It is important for employers to understand that, in many cases, it is the injured employee who is arguing against the applicability of the Act. Why? Provided an employer does not fail to pay the required compensation, an employer’s liability under the Act replaces all other liability to which the employer may be subject.

If you would like more information about workers’ compensation insurance coverage, including coverage under the U.S. Longshoreman and Harbor Worker’s Compensation Act, please contact us.