Protecting America’s Maritime Workers

Longshore harbor workers compensation

Workers’ compensation is a detailed field that becomes important to thousands of Americans every year. Not included in those thousands, however, are seamen and other maritime workers who are covered under completely different laws including the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act, and the Defense Base Act. In this article, we’ll review the basics of each law.

The Merchant Marine Act of 1920

Aptly named, the Merchant Marine Act was adopted in June 1920 and formalized the rights of seamen. Specifically, it allows injured sailors to make claims and collect from their employers for the negligence of the ship owner, captain, or fellow crew members. Because of the institution of the Jones Act, section 27 of the Merchant Marine Act, only workers who spend more than 30 percent of their time in the service of vessels on navigable waters are considered eligible for protection. The Jones Act also deals with coastal shipping, requiring that all goods transported by water between U.S. ports be carried only by U.S. flag ships, constructed in the U.S., owned by U.S. citizens, and accompanied by U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

The Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act

Better known as the Longshore act or LHWCA, this legislation was enacted in 1927 to cover particular maritime workers, including most dock and maritime workers who were not covered by the Jones Act. In general, a worker covered by the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act is entitled to temporary compensation benefits of two thirds his or her average weekly wage during medical treatment, and then to either a scheduled award for injury to body parts or two thirds of the worker’s loss of earning capacity. For 2012, the national average weekly wage was found to be $647.60.

As of 1972, the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act was amended to extend coverage landward for maritime workers. Generally speaking, maritime claims refer to claims made by persons working offshore on oil platforms, boats, cargo ships, and other sea vessels as well as those working along docks, terminals, or riverways. Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act benefits are paid directly by authorized, self insured employers. Overall, the Longshore and harbor workers compensation act program maintains more than $2.8 billion in reserve securities in order to continue providing benefits for injured workers in cases of employer insolvency.

The Defense Base Act

An extension of the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act, the Defense Base Act covers those employed at U.S. defense bases overseas. Included are those performing any duties for the U.S. government overseas. Because the job locations for those covered under the DBA are overseas, insurance companies have trouble confirming an accident or injury with their insured employers, and the most common initial reaction to a claim is to deny it pending investigation. Litigation also usually occurs over issues such as average weekly wage calculation, whether additional medical care is necessary, when a worker have finally reached a point in the medical care where he or she won’t continue to improve, or the ability to return back to gainful employment. Injuries that result in death are considered a special case under the DBA. Benefits include reasonable funeral expenses up to $3000. Survivors also receive benefits based on the worker’s average weekly wages. Most Defense Base Act lawyers focus on LHWCA and DBA claims to ensure that injured workers are protected and are allowed to argue their cases in court. Defense Base Act lawyers are, above all, trial attorneys, and won’t hesitate to bring a case to court when necessary.


  1. Are jobs in maritime injury law very common? I’ve never heard of this before.

  2. Are jobs in maritime injury law very common? I’ve never heard of this before.

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