Are You Covered Under the Defense Base Act?

The Defense Base Act (DBA) is a law requiring private sector contractors and subcontractors to maintain workers’ compensation insurance for their employees working outside of the United States.

Congress first enacted the DBA in 1941 to provide workers’ compensation to Americans citizens working on overseas U.S. military bases. During the Cold War, Congress expanded the coverage of the DBA to include additional groups, such as public work contractors and non-citizens, that were working in U.S. territories and on military bases abroad.

What Is the Defense Base Act?

The Defense Base Act (DBA) is a law requiring private-sector contractors (and subcontractors) to provide workers’ compensation insurance to their employees working outside of the United States.

Who Does the Defense Base Act Cover?

As stated by the Department of Labor, the DBA covers:

- People who work for private contractors on U.S. military bases or land used by the U.S. for military purposes;
- People who work on public work contracts with any U.S. government agency outside the United States;
- People who help perform contracts outside of the United States to assist geopolitical allies; and
- People who work for American employers that provide services to any of the branches of the U.S. Armed Forces outside of the country.

The law also protects people in any of the above categories who are injured or killed while traveling to or from their place of employment, provided they are traveling on their employer’s or the U.S. government’s dime.
If you fall into any one of these categories, you could be entitled to compensation under the DBA.

Are There Any Exceptions to the Defense Base Act?

The DBA does not provide benefits to federal employees located within the United States, crewmembers of naval vessels, or employees who get injured while performing “casual” employment that is “not in the usual course of the employer’s trade.” Many of these individuals are covered under separate laws like the Jones Act.

Can You Be Covered by the Defense Base Act If You Are Not a United States Citizen?

Yes. The DBA generally covers all employees who fall under the categories described above, even if they are not U.S. citizens. It is also worth mentioning that the DBA can apply to non-American employers that employ only foreign nationals.

What Kinds of Injuries Does the Defense Base Act Cover?

Almost any injury could fall under the DBA. Specific injuries that appear in DBA compensation claims can include:

- Spinal injuries;
- Construction-related injuries like burns or broken bones;
- Injuries from improvised explosive devices (IEDs); and
- Training-related injuries.

The DBA also covers illnesses that employees contract while working for their employer.

Are You Still Covered by the Defense Base Act If Your Employer Was Not the Cause of Your Injury?

Yes. The DBA is a “no-fault” workers’ compensation law. This means that the DBA covers any and all work-related injuries and illnesses, regardless of who is responsible. To receive coverage under the DBA, employees need only show that:

- They fall into one of the categories described above; and
- They become ill or injured because of their job.
This extends even to covered employees whose injuries did not occur during work hours.

What Kind of Benefits Are Available Under the Defense Base Act?

The DBA provides medical benefits, disability benefits, and even death benefits to covered employees.
Employees can receive up to two-thirds of their average weekly earnings under the DBA. However, this amount cannot exceed $1,030.78 per week.
Let’s use an example to show how this process works. Imagine a worker named John has an average weekly wage of $1,000 before he injures himself at work. Under the DBA, John would be able to receive about $667 per week.
Imagine another worker named Jane who makes an average weekly wage of $1,800 before her injury at work. Although $1,200 per week represents two-thirds of her average weekly earnings, she would only be able to receive the statutory cap of $1,030.78 per week.

Is There a Time Limit to Bring Claims Under the Defense Base Act?

Generally, you have just one year after the date of your injury or illness to file a claim under the DBA with the U.S. Department of Labor.
Therefore, if you wait until after this time to bring your claim, it will probably be thrown out.

Consult a Lawyer If You Have Any Questions

In this article, we discussed the DBA and whom it covers. However, this is only a basic summary of the law. Filing a claim on your own is often challenging, especially if you are unfamiliar with what lawyers mean when they talk about “claims” and “lawsuits.” If you want to learn more about DBA claims, it’s a good idea to reach out to a Defense Base Act lawyer who can discuss the options available to you in your individual circumstances.

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Posted - 05/10/2021