D.C. Circuit Rules No Intentional Tort Exception Under Defense Base Act

On June 2, 2015, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that there is no intentional tort exception under the Defense Base Act, affirming the dismissal of a purported class action suit on behalf of a group of 32 plaintiffs who alleged a variety of intentional tort claims in connection with the administration of their Defense Base Act claims. They sought to be declared class representatives for an estimated 10,000 similarly situated DBA workers.

The court noted: Members of the plaintiff class suffered severe injuries. They lost limbs in massive explosions, suffered traumatic brain injuries from “concussive blasts, mortars, rockets, and bombs,” and developed post-traumatic stress disorder after witnessing “gruesome scenes of carnage.”

The plaintiffs alleged their DBA employers and carriers “failed or refused to provide medical benefits owed,” “cut off medical benefits,” delayed providing benefits, “made false statements and misrepresentations” regarding payment of DBA benefits “while actually reducing, denying or ignoring [their] medical needs,” failed to comply with orders to pay benefits, threatened or discouraged workers from making claims, and terminated employment after the claimants were disabled by their allegedly covered injuries. They made class-wide claims for discrimination and retaliatory discharge under the LHWCA, RICO violations, bad faith and tortious breach of the covenant of good faith, “unconscionable, fraudulent, and deceptive trade practices,” civil conspiracy, violations of the ADA, and wrongful death.

Citing to the exclusivity provisions of the DBA, LHWCA, and District of Columbia Workers’ Compensation Act, all of which follow a similar construct, the court found that the intentional torts alleged by the plaintiffs fell squarely within the quid pro quo of those Acts and prohibited the suit to proceed. The court allowed the tangential tort claims, including an alleged assault and the ADA claims to be remanded for further proceedings.

This decision is important both for DBA and LHWCA practitioners, as it is the clearest pronouncement to date explaining the scope of the exclusivity provisions of these statutes and determining no intentional tort exception exists under the DBA.

Brink v. Continental Insurance Co., No. 13-7165 (June 2, 2015).