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Pennsylvania Appellate Court Affirms Holding Injured Employee’s Claim Exclusive to Federal Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act

Recently, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania affirmed a lower court’s holding that an injured employee’s claim fell within the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. At issue in this appeal was whether an exception applied to the general rule that a work-related injury that takes place on navigable United States waters falls exclusively under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. The employee argued there was concurrent jurisdiction, meaning that his claim also fell under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act.

Christopher Savoy worked for Global Associates as an electrician on United States Navy vessels at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. One day, while walking along a passageway aboard a ship, he tripped and twisted his right knee. A few months later, he filed a claim petition, stating he tore his right lateral meniscus.  He sought temporary total disability benefits.

His employer denied material allegations in the claim petition, and the matter was assigned to a workers’ compensation judge.  The parties stipulated at a hearing that Mr. Savoy had received benefits for his injury under the Longshore Act.  The matter was bifurcated, meaning split, to deal with two issues:  whether Mr. Savoy was entitled to receive compensation under the Workers’ Compensation Act, and whether the benefits under the Longshore Act were exclusive.  Mr. Savoy contended that there was concurrent jurisdiction, and he was entitled to benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Act.

Mr. Savoy’s testimony made clear that his injury took place while he was on the navigable waters of the United States.  The WCJ held that Mr. Savoy’s claim fell exclusively within the federal Longshore Act, and he was not entitled to benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Act.   The Board then affirmed the WCJ’s decision, making clear that since the ship was “on the water”  at the time of the injury, the WCJ correctly held Mr. Savoy’s remedy was exclusive under the Longshore Act.

Mr. Savoy, according to the Board, to prove that there was concurrent jurisdiction, was required to prove that his injury took place while the boat was in dry dock and not on the navigable waters of the United States.

On appeal, Mr. Savoy contended there was not enough evidence to show the boat was on navigable United States waters, and additional evidence was necessary to determine whether the Workers’ Compensation Act was proper. He sought a remand. The employer stated that the record supported the ECJ’s finding the ship was “on the water” and that Mr. Savoy was not entitled to a remand to produce evidence he should have produced at the first hearing.

The appellate court stated that the evidence regarding the location of the ship at the time of the injury was based on Mr. Savoy’s deposition testimony.  He stated that the ship was “on the water” at the time of his injury.

Next, the court of appeal stated the rule that an employee is entitled to benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Act when they suffer a work-related injury in Pennsylvania in the course and scope of their employment.  In the alternative, the Longshore Act provides employee benefits when a disability results from an injury upon the navigable waters of the United States.

The appellate court reviewed case law relevant to concurrent jurisdiction under the Longshore Act and the state Workers’ Compensation Act.  There is a “twilight zone” exception allowing some injuries that take place on navigable waters to be compensated under the Workers’ Compensation Act and the Longshore Act if the injury is neither maritime nor strictly land-based. Additionally, there is a landward extension of the Longshore Act, such that claimants suffering injuries on an adjoining pier, wharf, or terminal, for example, may pursue both forms of compensation.

However, the appellate court stated that the general rule is that maritime employees injured on navigable waters while performing traditionally maritime functions receive benefits exclusively through the jurisdiction of the Longshore Act.   Here, the evidence showed the ship was located “on the water” when Mr. Savoy suffered injuries. The facts do not support a concurrent jurisdiction scenario under either the “twilight” or landward extension of the Longshore Act to include workers’ compensation.  The appellate court stated that the location of Mr. Savoy’s ship supports only the one conclusion that Longshore Act jurisdiction was exclusive.

The court affirmed the order of the Board.

The Pennsylvania workers’ compensation attorneys at Needle Law diligently advocate on behalf of injured employees throughout the state. If you were injured in the course and scope of your employment, contact our office today at 570-344-1266.

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