Defense Base Act for Relief Workers in Puerto Rico

Hurricane Maria’s “Mind Boggling” Devastation

As you likely know, Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2017.  Hurricane Maria, in particular, was a Category 5 storm with sustained winds of 175 mph.  The Prime Minister of Puerto Rico characterized the damage as “mind boggling” devastation.  Maria, the strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in more than 80 years, destroyed homes, resulted in massive flooding, and took out the power across the entire island for an extended period of time.  Officially, Hurricane Maria left 64 people dead, but that number has been estimated to be more like 4,600 based on issues in the post-storm recovery.

In response, the U.S. government relied on many private contractors to handle the relief effort in Puerto Rico.  The relief effort, as you can expect, required the participation of many, many people.  Of course, when doing work in such a challenging environment as a post-storm zone, accidents will happen.  Who insures those relief workers who are injured on the job?  The Department of Labor recently made clear that the Defense Base Act is where injured workers should look.

Defense Base Act Coverage Available for Post-Storm Workers

This article will discuss the various ways in which the Defense Base Act can assist those government-contracted relief workers who helped on the Island of Enchantment. But, before getting too far into the details of the recent Department of Labor announcement, you should be sure to consult with a skilled Defense Base Act attorney before you file a Defense Base Act claim.

At Doolittle & Tucker, we are the “cream of the crop” when it comes to Defense Base Act representation, particularly in South Florida.  Having handled many cases for injured employees under the Defense Base Act, we are in the best position to properly advise you of what you need to know to make a Defense Base Act claim.  Also, we can worry about the Defense Base Act details so you don’t have to.  Call us for a free consultation today at 904-396-1734.  Remember, you pay nothing in legal fees unless we obtain compensation for you.

Department of Labor Announcement on the Defense Base Act for Puerto Rico Relief Workers

The Department of Labor has been aware of the many U.S. government agencies that utilized the services of private contractors to provide humanitarian and other assistance in conjunction with the global relief effort in Puerto Rico.  Accordingly, in October 2018, the Department of Labor made sure to let private contractors know that they must obtain Defense Base Act coverage for any of their employees who are still working on the relief effort.

Why Does the Defense Base Act Cover Relief Workers?

The Defense Base Act requires any private contractor performing work under a U.S. government contract to buy Defense Base Act insurance for their employees.  So, if the U.S. government hired a private contractor to conduct relief efforts in Puerto Rico, the employees of that private contractor must have workers’ compensation coverage in the event of an accident.  That coverage is the Defense Base Act., which is an extension of the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act.

What are the Responsibilities of the U.S. Government Agencies That Are Hiring the Contractors for Puerto Rico?

The Department of Labor recommends that the contracting personnel in any federal agency would be wise to include contract provisions with private contractors that require the contractors to secure Defense Base Act insurance.  The Department of Labor further requires that the Defense Base Act insurance should be from a carrier that is authorized by the Department.

Because the Defense Base Act applies to all employees of government contractors, the insurance must be in place before workers are sent to Puerto Rico, or before they do any work there.

Is the Defense Base Act the Only Workers’ Compensation Available to Puerto Rico Relief Workers?

Yes.  Once Defense Base Act coverage is secured, the Act is the exclusive remedy for workers who are injured, acquire an illness, or are killed on the job.  That means that an employee with a work-related injury in Puerto Rico must make a claim through the Defense Base Act claims process.  The good news is that Defense Base Act coverage is, in many respects, better for the injured worker than state workers’ compensation coverage, such as the Florida Workers’ Compensation Act.

If You Are a Puerto Rico Relief Worker, What Are the Basics of Making a Defense Base Act Claim?

The Defense Base Act requires an employee to report the injury to his or her supervisor immediately.  The injured worker must also provide written notice of the injury within 30 days.  That notice will then trigger the government contractor/employer to offer medical treatment.

Significantly, the injured worker is also responsible for filing an official claim with the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs within one year of the date of injury or the last payment of compensation, whichever is later.  The Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP) is the office at the Department of Labor specifically devoted to Defense Base Act administration.

Note that if a claim involves occupational injury (i.e., a condition that gets worse over time, such as lung disease from breathing in fumes), then the worker has two years to file an official claim from the date that he or she discovered that the injury was related to his or her employment.

Be Sure to Have an Experienced Defense Base Act Attorney to Assist You

The U.S. government relied heavily on private contractors to be the laboring arm of the relief effort in Puerto Rico this past year.  It is, therefore, important that employees of those contractors know that their workers’ compensation coverage is taken care of under the Defense Base Act.  The Department of Labor was right to notify the public of that coverage.

If you have been injured while working for a private contractor in Puerto Rico, the expert Defense Base Act attorneys at the Doolittle & Tucker, P.A., are the perfect choice to assist you with your claims.  We specialize in Defense Base Act claims and insurance, and we know how to smooth out any obstacles that may occur with your claim before the Department of Labor.

Call us today at 904-396-1734 to learn more about how our expertise can help you with your Defense Base Act claim.