U.S. High Court Hears Arguments On Coverage For Worker Killed On Dry Land

WASHINGTON, D.C. - (Mealey's) The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) does not provide a remedy for a worker injured in a forklift accident on dry land, Paul D. Clement of Bancroft PLLC in Washington argued on behalf of Pacific Operators Offshore and Insurance Company of the State of Pennsylvania on Oct. 11 before the U.S. Supreme Court (Pacific Operators Offshore, LLP, et al. v. Luisa L. Valladolid, et al., No. 10-507, U.S. Sup.).

 

"A worker injured on dry land from operations on dry land has a remedy in the State workers' compensation law, but not from OCSLA's extension of the Longshore Act to the outer continental shelf," Clement told the justices. 

But Assistant to the Solicitor General Joseph R. Palmore, arguing on behalf of the director of the Office of Workers' Compensation Programs, told the high court that how the worker in question spends most of his or her working time is more important than location in determining coverage in the present case.  "We think that the category of off-shelf injuries that should be covered are those that are suffered by workers who spend a substantial amount of time on the shelf," he argued.  

David C. Frederick of Washington, arguing on behalf of Luisa Valladolid, added, "If the work is substantially related and the causal connection goes to the employment relationship to the operations, the work is covered under OCSLA." 

Decedent Juan Valladolid worked for Pacific as a roustabout, stationed primarily on one of Pacific's two offshore drilling platforms.  He was killed on the grounds of Pacific's onshore oil-processing facility when he was crushed by a forklift.  His widow, Luisa, sought workers' compensation benefits under OCSLA and the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA).  After informal proceedings before the local district director of the Department of Labor's Office of Workers' Compensation Programs, the matter was referred to an administrative law judge (ALJ).  The ALJ denied Luisa Valladolid's OCSLA claim on the grounds that Juan Valladolid's injury had occurred outside the geographic situs of the outer continental shelf.  The ALJ denied the LHWCA claim because Juan Valladolid was not engaged in maritime employment and he was not injured on a maritime situs.  

The Benefits Review Board upheld the ALJ's ruling on OCSLA benefits and affirmed the denial of the LHWCA benefits on the maritime situs ground.  It did not reach the maritime employment issue.  Luisa Vallodolid appealed to the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which on May 13, 2010, ruled that "the OCSLA workers' compensation provision . . . applies to any injury resulting from operations on the outer continental shelf, regardless of the location of the injury."  However, the appellate panel affirmed the denial of workers' compensation benefits under the LHWCA.  Pacific, and the insurance company petitioned the high court.  

[Editor's Note:  Full coverage will be in the October issue of Mealey's Litigation Report: Employment Law.  In the meantime, the oral arguments transcript is available at www.mealeysonline.com or by calling the Customer Support Department at 1-800-833-9844.  Document #73-111014-021T.  For all of your legal news needs, please visit www.lexisnexis.com/mealeys.] 

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