A Recent Case Upholds Offshore Warehouseman’s Workers’ Compensation Claim under the Longshore Act

A recent case, Malta v. Wood Group Production Services, BRB No. 18-0059 (2018), which was argued in front of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) and Benefits Review Board (“BRB”) a total of three times, upheld an offshore warehouseman’s Workers’ Compensation claim under the Longshore Act.

Malta v. Wood Group Production Services

On April 14, 2012, the Claimant, an offshore warehouseman, was working on a fixed platform in state waters unloading a CO2 bottle from a cargo basket, when the bottle discharged causing him to sustain injuries to his back, left arm, shoulder and foot. The Claimant filed a workers’ compensation claim under the Longshore Act, which was jurisdictionally denied. This case was argued in front of ALJ and Benefits Review Board a total of three times.

Did Injury Occur in a Legal Jurisdiction Covered Under Longshore Act?

The first time, the ALJ denied the Claimant benefits under the Longshore Act, holding that Claimant’s injury did not occur on a situs (the place to which, for purposes of legal jurisdiction or taxation, a property belongs) covered under the Act. The Claimant appealed, and the BRB reversed the decision, holding that the facility where the Claimant worked was a covered situs and remanded the case for consideration of remaining issues.

Was Offshore Warehouseman Engaged in Maritime Employment?

The second time, the ALJ addressed whether the Claimant engaged in “maritime employment” pursuant to the Longshore Act. The parties had stipulated that the initial BRB decision established jurisdiction, but that the Employer reserved the right to controvert benefits due to change of status.

The ALJ adopted the stipulations and ordered the Employer to pay the Claimant benefits, to which the Employer appealed, challenging the finding that the Claimant is a maritime employee. The BRB vacated the administrative law judge’s decision, stating that the parties’ joint stipulation incorrectly interpreted the Board’s decision as finding the Claimant to be an employee covered under the Act.

The BRB remanded the case back to the ALJ as the ALJ did not make specific findings or legal conclusions regarding Claimant’s status as a maritime employee.

Were Claimant’s Duties Related to Maritime Commerce?

The third time, the ALJ found that the Claimant’s duties did constitute maritime employment and ordered the Employer to pay benefits.

The Employer thereafter appealed, asserting that the Claimant’s employment activities of unloading and loading equipment and tools for use in the oilfield are not related to maritime commerce and did not serve a maritime purpose.  Further, the Employer contended that Claimant failed to establish an additional independent connection to maritime commerce in order to be covered under the Act.

Decision – Claimant’s Activities Considered Maritime Employment Pursuant to the Longshore Act

The BRB affirmed the ALJ’s decision, holding that the Claimant’s activities are considered maritime employment pursuant to the Act. Claimant is entitled to coverage based on his overall employment duties and the employment duties at the moment of injury.

The BRB held that the mere fact that Claimant’s work was in oil and gas is not sufficient to deny coverage and that the Claimant’s duties of unloading and loading supply vessels is a maritime activity.  While the majority of the Claimant’s time was spent in activities relating to oil and gas production, the BRB agreed with the ALJ that these activities did not detract from the Claimant’s routine maritime activities, which he was partaking in at the time of injury.

In affirming the ALJ’s decision, the BRB additionally disagreed with the Employer’s contention that the Claimant needed to establish an additional independent connection to maritime commerce. The BRB stated that employees have the burden to establish such when they are not directly involved in the loading or unloading of vessels. Here, the Claimant worked directly with unloading and loading the vessels and thus the Claimant did not need to prove same, regardless of the use of the cargo. Based on the foregoing, the BRB affirmed the award of benefits.