How Are Disability Benefits Calculated Under The Defense Base Act?  The Answer Shouldn’t Leave You Hanging.

Getting injured on the job is something that we would all like to avoid.  We do not want to be out of work and dependent on disability benefits.  We do not want to have to worry about making insurance claims, or worse yet, fighting with an insurance company about what does and does not constitute a compensable injury.  We do not want to be in a position where we can no longer do the job we want to do because of an injury.

Yet, accidents happen, and at least when they occur we want to have the peace of mind that we will be compensated appropriately.  That is why workers’ compensation insurance was created.  It is meant to protect both employers and employees when things go wrong.

The Defense Base Act – For Civilians Working at U.S. Military Bases Overseas

In the event of an incident, employees know that they will be compensated for their work-related injury.  That same protection and peace of mind is afforded to those civilians who work overseas at military bases.

In accordance with the federally mandated Defense Base Act, which is an extension of the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, 33 U.S.C. § 901-950, people who are not part of the military (and are therefore not covered by the kind of workers’ compensation given to the branches of the military) can receive compensation.  The compensation is for injuries that occur while working outside the United States on U.S. military bases, or under a contract with the U.S. government for public works or for national defense.

Therefore, if you are a civilian working outside the U.S. on a military base, or are under contract by the U.S. government for public works or national defense, then you are probably curious about what type of compensation you can receive under the Defense Base Act (DBA).

Knowing how disability benefits are calculated is a fundamental question in understanding how workers’ compensation under the Defense Base Act functions.  If you have been injured and are eligible for workers’ compensation under the DBA (or the Longshore Act), the disability benefit calculation begins with determining your “Average Weekly Wage.”

Normally, you would think that your Average Weekly Wage calculation is relatively simple – just look at a weekly paystub.  In many cases, that may be all that is required.  However, in other cases, determining the Average Weekly Wage could be more complicated than you think.  In fact, there is more than one way to make the Average Weekly Wage calculation based on (i) how you do your work, and (ii) the type of injury you sustained.

Calculating the Average Weekly Wage (AWW)

There are different methods for calculating your Average Weekly Wage (AWW).  The first is based on a 5- or 6-day work schedule per week.  The second is based on a 7-day work schedule or a casual working schedule.

  1. The 5- and 6-day per week schedule.  If you work 5-days, or 6-days, per week on a consistent basis, then the AWW calculation is relatively straightforward.  All you do is take your average earnings for the year (annual) and divide that number by 52.  If you have not worked for a whole year at your position, then the AWW is calculated using the AWW of an employee in the same type of job, and in the same regional location as you.  In that circumstance, you arrive at your AWW by first multiplying the similarly-situated worker’s daily wage by 260 for a five-day worker, or 300 for a six-day worker, resulting in annual average earnings.  Then, take that annual average and divide by 52 to reach the AWW.
  2. The 7-day per week schedule or casual workers.  There are occasions when the formulas above do not work for a worker injured overseas or applying the formula would be unfair to the injured worker.  If you were in one of those situations, a determination would be made to arrive at an annual average earning that is reasonable based on the type of job you have and the geographic location in which you work.  The derived annual average salary would then be divided by 52 to reach the appropriate AWW.

Classification of an Injury Using AWW

Under the DBA, the classification of your injury impacts the compensation calculation.  In particular, compensation relies on whether your injury leaves you totally disabled or partially disabled, and whether the disability is permanent or temporary.

  1. Permanent Total Disability.  If you are totally disabled as a result of an injury at work, and you will never be able to return to the work you did prior to the injury, then the compensation will be two-thirds of your AWW for the during of your disability.
  2. Temporary Total Disability.  If you are totally disabled, yet the disability only lasts for a certain amount of time and you will be able to heal and work again, then you would receive two-thirds of your AWW for the duration of your disability.
  3. Permanent Partial Disability.  If your injury falls under a specified schedule under the Longshore Act (e.g., loss of arm, or loss of hearing), then your compensation will be determined by that schedule.  By way of example, loss of hearing in one ear will result in two-thirds of your AWW paid to you for 52 weeks under the statutory schedule.  If, however, your injury does not fall under the schedule, then you will receive compensation while the partial disability persists at the rate of two-thirds of your loss of wages.  In other words, you would receive your AWW minus your wage-earning ability after the injury.
  4. Temporary Partial Disability.  Your compensation will be based on two-thirds of your loss of wages, i.e., your AWW minus your wage-earning ability after the injury.  Your compensation will last for as long as your partial disability persists, but for no longer than five years.

If you have suffered a work injury and are eligible for compensation under the DBA, then you should retain the services of an experienced Defense Base Act attorney to guide you through the disability calculation maze.  Contact Doolittle & Tucker, the Florida Defense Base Act workers’ compensation professionals, at 904.396.1734.  We will provide you with a free consultation at your convenience. Call today.