Fishing Injury Covered Under Zone of Special Danger

Claimant was a citizen of the Republic of the Marshall Islands within the Kwajalein Atoll, which is home to the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command’s Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site. At the time he was injured, Claimant was employed as a painter for one of the companies providing logistical support to the site.  As part of his job duties, Claimant would work on various islands, including Gagan Island which was a small, uninhabited, defense support island.  This particular island was restricted to persons assigned to work there.  The only ingress and egress to and from the island was by an employer-provided watercraft.  While working on this island one evening, Claimant decided to partake in recreational fishing after hours.  Claimant, who was wearing flip-flop sandals, slipped and cut his right foot on the coral reef.  Claimant thereafter sought medical attention for this incident, which ultimately resulted in a below-the-knee amputation. Employer argued that Claimant was acting outside the course and scope of his employment and therefore, the claim was not compensable under the Defense Base Act.


The ALJ disagreed with Employer and applied the zone of special danger doctrine to find Claimant’s injury compensable.  On appeal to the Benefits Review Board, Employer argued that since Claimant was working in his home country, the zone of special danger doctrine is inapplicable. In ruling on the issue, the BRB specifically noted that noncitizen employees, and local nationals have been covered by DBA jurisdiction since amendments made to the Act in 1958. Furthermore, according to O’Leary v. Brtown-Pacific-Maxon, Inc., 340 U.S. 504 (1951), the issue of whether the zone of special danger doctrine is applicable involves a factual determination. The fact that Claimant was working in his home county is not dispositive of the zone of special danger inquiry. The BRB engaged in a factual analysis to affirm the ALJ’s finding that Claimant was within a zone of special danger when he decided to engage in after-hours fishing. More specifically, the BRB affirmed the ALJ’s finding that the obligations and conditions of Claimant’s employment created a zone of special danger out of which his injury arose. Therefore, Claimant’s injury was compensable under the DBA.


Jetnil v. Chugach Management Services