DOL Wins Longshore PTSD Case

The case involved disability benefits under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act sought by a forklift driver who accidentally struck and killed a co-worker.

A panel of judges from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has sided with the U.S. Department of Labor in a case involving disability benefits under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA) sought by a forklift driver who accidentally struck and killed a co-worker. The judges issued an amended decision Jan. 27 in the case, Ceres Marine Terminals, Inc. v. Director, Office of Workers' Compensation Programs, USDOL; Samuel Jackson, No. 15-1041.

The 3-0 decision was written by Chief Judge Roger L. Gregory and joined by Judges Allyson K. Duncan and Henry F. Floyd. They refused to adopt a test sought by Ceres Marine Terminals -- that employee Samuel P. Jackson had to have been at immediate risk of physical harm, or in the "zone of danger" as outlined in a 1994 U.S. Supreme Court case, Consolidated Rail Corp. v. Gottshall, 512 U.S. 532, in order to suffer a compensable injury. Because he was not, he could not recover damages for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) under the act.

The LHWCA was enacted to create a federal workers' compensation statute for longshoremen and harbor workers. Injuries are presumed to be work related, Gregory wrote, after the claimant establishes a prima facie case that the injury was caused by the employment and arose during employment. He noted that the employer didn't dispute that Jackson could recover for a psychological injury under the act, but instead argued he could not recover for a psychological injury unless he had sustained a physical injury or was placed in immediate risk of physical harm.

The panel concluded that argument is inconsistent with the act's text and precedent and is contradicted by the reasoning of the Consolidated Rail case. "The LHWCA plainly does not encompass such a limitation by its express terms. The LHWCA does not distinguish between psychological and physical injuries – the statute simply says 'injury.' To be sure, Congress could have easily written the statute to contain such a requirement, but it did not," they found.

The accident occurred March 28, 2011. According to the decision, Jackson, a longshoreman, was operating a forklift on a pier in Portsmouth, Va., when he veered to the left to avoid being struck by a hustler truck that was backing up and carrying a 40-foot container. The forklift struck Paula Bellamy, a spotter who had her back toward the forklift, and fatally injured her.

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