What is the War Hazard Compensation Act?

Before the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Defense Base Act was a little-known workers’ compensation program that existed under the umbrella of the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act.  However, as the wars resulted in more deaths and the United States relied more and more on private contractors to assist with U.S. military operations, the number of injuries and deaths compensated under the Defense Base Act increased substantially.

That change in circumstance, in turn, put the focus on another piece of congressional legislation – the War Hazard Compensation Act. This article will take some time to discuss the War Hazard Compensation Act and discuss how it relates to the Defense Base Act in a number of ways.

If you want more specific information about the War Hazard Compensation Act after reading this blog, we welcome you to consult with one of our top War Hazard Compensation Act attorneys at Doolittle & Tucker.  Very few firms specialize in Defense Base Act and War Hazard Compensation Act work.  Doolittle & Tucker attorneys, however, have spent years handling those types of cases, and we are happy to assist you.  Call us today for a free case review, or to simply discuss representation for your company regarding the War Hazard Compensation Act.  Our number is 904-396-1734.

The War Hazard Compensation Act:  The Basics

As you may know, if a person working for a private employer assisting the U.S. military overseas is injured on the job, then that person would receive workers’ compensation benefits through the Defense Base Act. Specifically, private contractors working for the U.S. military overseas must purchase Defense Base Act insurance for their employees.

When an employee is injured, the Defense Base Act insurance kicks in. Yet, if the injury (or death) occurs because of a “war-risk hazard,” then the insurance company can seek reimbursement from the United States government. That compensation is permitted due to the War Hazard Compensation Act.

Accordingly, the War Hazard Compensation Act is a law that allows the United States government to repay insurance companies for the benefits that those companies paid to injured workers. Those repayments are only allowed if the worker’s injury was caused by a “war-risk hazard.”

What is a War-Risk Hazard?

A war-risk hazard generally involves attacks or actions by hostile forces, as well as accidents occurring during the operation of aircraft or vessels in a zone of hostility.  Specifically, the term “war-risk hazard” is defined by statute as any hazard arising from:

  1. The discharge of any missile or the use of any weapon, explosive, or other noxious thing by a hostile force or person or in combating an attack or an imagined attack by a hostile force or person;
  2. Action of a hostile force or person, including rebellion or insurrection against the United States or any of its allies;
  3. The discharge or explosion of munitions intended for use in connection with a war or armed conflict with a hostile force or person;
  4. The collision of vessels in convoy or the operation of vessels or aircraft without running lights or without other customary peacetime aids to navigation; or
  5. The operation of vessels or aircraft in a zone of hostilities or engaged in war activities.

The Interplay Between the Defense Base Act and the War Hazard Compensation Act

Not all Defense Base Act injuries can be reimbursed under the War Hazards Compensation Act.  As noted, an insurance company will only be eligible for reimbursement under the War Hazard Compensation Act if the Defense Base Act injury was caused by a “war-risk hazard.”

For example, if a private-contractor employee trips and is injured while walking to the mess hall, then it is a Defense Base Act injury, but it is not reimbursable under the War Hazard Compensation Act.  Yet, if an employee trips and injures himself while running away from an explosive device, then it would be considered both a Defense Base Act injury and a War Hazard Compensation Act injury.

In both examples, an insurance company will pay benefits under the Defense Base Act.  In only the latter example, however, will the insurance company be permitted to seek reimbursement under the War Hazards Compensation Act.

Litigating Defense Base Act Claims to Keep War Hazards Compensation Act Repayment in Play

As you may be able to recognize, the insurance company benefits a great deal from the War Hazards Compensation Act.  Indeed, all of the burdens, in a “war-risk hazard” situation, fall on the taxpayers of the United States government when a private employee is injured on the job.  Less scrupulous individuals may seek to take advantage of that fact – whereby an injured employee, his employer, and the insurance carrier might conspire together to ensure a War Hazards reimbursement is on the offing.

That fear of collusion is why the Code of Federal Regulations requires that all insurance carriers litigate Defense Base Act claims as if the War Hazards Compensation Act does not apply.  Thus, insurance carriers are incentivized, as with all workers’ compensation claims, to take reasonable measures to reduce or terminate liability, investigate the claim fully, and pursue third-party actions when applicable.

That being said, all Defense Base Act cases have only one factual backdrop.  Accordingly, it would be an attorney’s responsibility to develop the facts with appropriate detail to ensure that War Hazard reimbursement is appropriate in a true “war-risk hazard” situation.  Stated differently, litigants should, at the front end, make sure that the facts are complete enough to handle both the Defense Base Act claim, and a War Hazard Compensation Act claim should the need arise.

Doolittle & Tucker Can Assist with Both Defense Base Act and Workers Compensation Act Claims

We have years of experience handling Defense Base Act and War Hazard Compensation Act issues.  At Doolittle & Tucker, we understand the particular nuances of both statutes and have legal professionals ready to help you regardless of the current status of your claim.  Take advantage of a free consultation with a seasoned War Hazards Compensation Act attorney to maximize the benefits to you or your company.  Call us today at 904-396-1734.