BRB: Missile Mechanic Was Not a Maritime Employee

To obtain Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (“LHWCA”) benefits, a claimant must establish that he was employed on a maritime situs and that he had maritime status.  The status requirement is satisfied if an employee engaged in work that was integral to the loading, unloading, constructing or repairing of vessels.  See 33 U.S.C. § 902(3).

Claimant was employed as a missile mechanic for Employer for twenty years.  Claimant was injured when he stepped on loose concrete on a sidewalk.  The injury took a turn for the worse: his fractured ankle required multiple surgeries, and as a result of a staph infection, doctors amputated Claimant’s lower leg and foot.  Then, after the infection spread, Claimant suffered kidney failure, a heart attack, and removal of part of his collarbone.

Claimant filed a claim for LHWCA benefits which an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) ultimately denied because Claimant was not a “maritime employee.”

Claimant’s job duties as a missile mechanic senior are not in dispute.  He testified . . . that he build, dismantled and inspected missiles and subassemblies of missiles.  That is, he assembled new missiles and refurbished old missiles that were to go on or that came off Trident submarines.  Specifically, he inspected parts and finished pieces, tested motors and checked for hydraulic leaks, and drove a forklift and a crane in the assembly building to move and lift missile parts.  His work involved only missile hardware, assembly, and inspection.  . . .  There is no allegation that claimant worked on submarines, loaded or unloaded submarines, or built or refurbished any part of the submarine itself . . . .

The ALJ denied benefits based on an interesting distinction: “The administrative law judge also found that claimant’s work on the missiles, while essential to the mission of the submarines, was not essential to the operation of the submarines.”  On appeal, Claimant argued that “the distinction between ‘mission’ and ‘operation’ is not valid” and that missiles should be held akin to building or repairing the “appurtenances” of a vessel.

The Benefits Review Board disagreed.  A missile on a submarine is not like a crane or boon, or a propeller.  It is a “separate entity that is carried by the submarine, more akin to cargo.”  Claimant’s work was not integral to maritime work, and he was not a maritime employee.  Accordingly, benefits were denied.

Kinnon v. Lockheed Missiles and Space Co., BRB No. 12-0410 (2013) (published).