Recent Court of Appeals Decision Makes An Important Ruling on Jurisdiction in Defense Base Act Cases

At the beginning of this year, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, handed down an important Defense Base Act opinion in the case of Global Linguist Solutions, LLC; Zurich American Insurance Company v. Adbulraouf Abdelmedged; U.S. Department of Labor (January 16, 2019).

Accordingly, in today’s blog we will discuss the important aspects of the Defense Base Act, and then cover the recent Ninth Circuit decision and its implications for future Defense Base Act cases.

Of course, if after reading this blog, you have additional questions about making a Defense Base Act claim, we invite you to call us at Doolittle & Tucker, P.A.  We understand the Defense Base Act and care deeply about our clients who are injured on the job.  We will work diligently to ensure maximum compensation for you and your loved ones.  Call today at 904-396-1734.

The Basics of the Defense Base Act

To better understand the Global Linguist Solutions, LLC case, it is helpful to get a refresher on the basics of what the Defense Base Act is, and who it covers.

The Umbrella Workers’ Compensation Program – The Longshore Act

The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (Longshore Act), is a federal workers’ compensation program intended to cover workplace accidents that occur at or around the shores and harbors of the United States.  It was a way in which to protect longshoremen and harbor workers who may suffer workplace accidents, without the need to go through lengthy and wasteful litigation.

The Longshore Act over the years has had a number of “extensions” added on to it.  In short, when a federal need presented itself, it was necessary to cover other types of federal employees under the Longshore Act, so that other employees working on behalf of the federal government had their workplace injuries covered by workers’ compensation.

One such extension is the Defense Base Act.  Although it falls under the umbrella of the Longshore Act, it has little to do with longshoremen or harbor activities.  Rather, the Defense Base Act covers employees who work for private employers on U.S. military bases, or on any lands used by the U.S. for military purposes outside of the U.S., including U.S. territories and possessions.

  • Who Does the Defense Base Act Cover?

Of course, the employees covered by the Defense Base Act are non-military personnel.  A good example of a person covered by the Defense Base Act would be the clerk, or store manager, of a commissary on a U.S. military base.  The employee is non-military, and is likely working for a private contractor.  Yet, the employee works on a U.S. military base.

  • Benefits of the Defense Base Act

You may have seen other blogs on our website in which we discuss some of the benefits of the Defense Base Act.  Those benefits include that an injured worker is entitled to receive two-thirds of their average weekly wage while out on disability. The Defense Base Act allows for annual cost of living and inflation increases when being paid benefits for permanent and total disability.  Also, the Defense Base Act gives the injured employee the right to choose his or her own attending physician.

Further, while some workers’ compensation programs may not cover metal-health-related injuries, the Defense Base Act covers psychological injuries resulting from a workplace incident.  Thus, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression are all covered under the Defense Base Act.  In fact, injured employees may be entitled to lost wage and medical benefits because of those mental-health conditions.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (or PTSD) brings us to the Ninth Circuit’s recent Global Linguist Solutions, LLC case.

Global Linguist Solutions LLC v. Abdelmeged

On January 16, 2019, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals handed down its decision in Global Linguist Solutions LLC v. Abdelmeged.

In that case, the petitioner Global Linguist Solutions employed Abdulraouf Abdelmeged as a linguist and interpreter in Iraq.  Abdelmeged used his interpreting skills to support the American military for two years.

About two years after he returned to the United States he filed a workers’ compensation claim under the Defense Base Act.  His claim primarily alleged that he suffered severe PTSD, caused by his work in Iraq.  He claimed that the PTSD rendered him incapable of earning his former wages.

Two separate trial-type hearings before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) followed.  Finally, the Department of Labor’s Benefits Review Board, which makes Defense Base Act determinations, agreed that Abdelmeged was unable to work due to his psychiatric condition, which was developed from, or was aggravated by, his employment in Iraq.

The Benefits Review Board decided that he was entitled to compensation from the date he returned from Iraq. Abdelmeged’s employer, Global Linguist Solutions, and the employer’s insurance company, Zurich American Insurance Company, appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

  • Questions Before the Court

The Ninth Circuit faced two separate questions in this Defense Base Act Case. First, there was the question of where a Defense Base Act appeal should be filed. Second, the question was whether there was sufficient evidence of PTSD to support the Benefits Review Board’s findings.

  • Jurisdiction

The question of where to file a Defense Base Act appeal was actually a novel question for the Ninth Circuit.  The past practice for any appeals up for review of compensation orders under the Defense Base Act should be filed directly in the Court of Appeals.  Yet, it was unclear whether it would be in the Circuit (or region) where the ALJ made his or her decision, or whether it was where the relevant district director (who administers Defense Base Act claims) resides.

The Ninth Circuit, looking at the text of the Defense Base Act itself, determined that petitions for review should be in the Circuit Court in which the district director resides.  That is because ALJs typically move from place to place, and therefore could place an appeal far from the location where the initial claim was filed.

  • Sufficiency of Proofs

Finally, the Ninth Circuit looked at the credibility of Abdelmeged’s PTSD claim.  The court decided that although there was a solid amount of evidence that challenged Abdelmeged’s PTSD claim, the expert supporting Abdelmeged’s diagnosis provided enough evidence to support the workers’ compensation claim amount.  Accordingly, Abdelmeged’s compensation was affirmed by the Ninth Circuit.

  • Florida Defense Base Act Attorneys Can Help Maximize Your Workers’ Compensation Benefits

Doolittle & Tucker, P.A. is a firm that puts special focus on Defense Base Act cases.  We want to help those who support our military overseas, and we do that by giving quality representation of Defense Base Act claims.  Call us at Doolittle & Tucker, 904-396-1734.