• 04-24-2012 | 11:46 PM
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Practical Application of Roberts vs. Sea-Land Services, Inc.

 By Monica F. Markovich and Jonathan A. Tweedy, Brown Sims, P.C., Houston, Texas

On March 20, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court rendered its decision in the Roberts vs. Sea-Land Services, Inc., holding that the maximum compensation rate is determined by the first date of disability and not the date of injury. At issue is Section 6(c) of the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (33 U.S.C.S. § 906(c)); specifically, the date in which an injured worker is “newly awarded compensation” and its effect on the maximum compensation rate. In a decision authored by Justice Sotomayor, eight justices agreed that the applicable maximum compensation rate under the LHWCA is calculated based on the date when the injured worker first becomes disabled and entitled to benefits, not the date he first received benefits or the date he received a compensation order.

The following chart explains the practical application of the decision:

Injury causing immediate disability: Maximum compensation rate is based on date of injury.

Injury without immediate disability: Maximum compensation rate is based on first date of disability.

Injury where disability lasts more than 3 but less than 15 days: Maximum compensation rate is based on fourth day of disability, where the disability actually begins under Section 6(a).

Injury where initial disability lasts more than 3 but less than 15 days but a later period of disability occurs: Maximum compensation rate is initially based on fourth day of disability. If there is a later period of disability such that the total disability exceeds 14 days, then the maximum compensation rate would revert back to the first day of disability.

While the decision provides a clear answer on when to apply the maximum compensation rate for traumatic injuries, it allows for inconsistent rates where the onset of disability is later than the date of injury.

Consider the example of a car accident on September 29, 2007, resulting in injury to three similarly paid workers, each earning $2,000.00 a week. The first worker’s injuries were severe enough that he became immediately disabled and remained disabled for years. His temporary total disability rate is $1,114.44, based on the maximum rate of compensation on the date of September 29, 2007. The second worker was immediately disabled but this disability only lasted ten days. Under Section 6(a) of the LHWCA, Carrier does not have any compensation liability for the first three days of Claimant’s disability period, if that period does not run more than fourteen days. Thus, the second worker’s temporary total disability rate is $1,160.36, based on the maximum rate of compensation on the date of October 2, 2007 [his first date of disability based on Section 6(a)]. The third worker continued working for twenty-six months after the accident until he finally gave into recommendations for back surgery. His disability did not begin until he first lost wages. Thus, his temporary total disability rate is $1,224.66, based on the maximum rate of compensation on the date of November 27, 2009. All workers had the same average weekly wage, had the same pre-injury wages, were injured in the same incident, and suffered some disability as a result, yet their compensation rates differ as a result of the new ruling.

For occupational disease cases that do not result in immediate disability, the average weekly wage is determined based on the date on which Claimant was aware, or reasonably should have been aware, of the connection between his occupational disease and his inability to earn wages. Based on the Roberts rationale, the compensation rate could be capped at a rate lower than the maximum compensation rate for the “time of injury” where the onset of disability predates the first date of disability after Claimant is aware of the relationship of the occupational disease to employment.

© Copyright 2012 by Brown Sims, P.C. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.