Defense Base Act Practice: We're Not in Kansas Anymore

Defense Base Act Practice: We're Not in Kansas Anymore

In 1988 or thereabouts, I received a telephone call from a claims manager at an insurance company that was well known to me but for which I had never done any work.  Because they were looking for new counsel due to the death of very able former counsel, he asked me if I would be interested in handling their Defense Base Act cases given my experience as a Longshore attorney.  I said "sure".  He said come on over so we can talk, which we did.  I then received my first assignment, which involved the death of a passenger in an automobile that ran into and killed a camel in Saudi Arabia.  I remember remarking to my legal assistant, Miranda Chiu, who is now with the Department of Labor in Washington D.C., that "we're not in Kansas anymore".

Since then, my practice in this area has taken me all over the country where I have worked with many claims professionals and have met skilled attorneys who represent both claimants and carriers.  I have likewise met administrative law judges in the Office of Administrative Law Judges and Office of Workers' Compensation Programs personnel from every office in both of those Department of Labor branches.  My travels have even taken me out of the country where I have been introduced to claims representatives in Dubai and a lawyer and claimants in South Korea.  This is not untypical for those of us who do this kind of work these days.  We're literally "not in Kansas anymore".

While there are many people in the Department of Labor who make the system work, special mention should be made of one man who, until very recently, along with his staff, was responsible for administering the vast majority of claims filed under this act.  Richard V. Robilotti, District Director in New York City, can best be described as the engine that drives this machine.  He works tirelessly at a time when most people are dreaming of greener pastures or at least taking a well-deserved breather now and then.

Last year I was contacted by Matthew Bender & Co. to see if I would be the Editor-in-Chief of a new publication titled the Defense Base Act and War Hazards Compensation Act Handbook. As part of my duties, I recruited some of the top legal experts in the country to help write the book: David C. Barnett, Roger D. Ellickson, Keith L. Flicker, Richard L. Garelick, Joshua T. Gillelan II, David M. Linker, William B. Newton, Mark L. Schaffer, and Michael Thomas. These contributors "know their stuff" and have worked hard to create their chapters while, at the same time, balancing their practices and personal lives.

  The result is the first practical guide ever written on the Defense Base Act and War Hazards Compensation Act. Hostilities in Eastern Europe, Afghanistan, and most recently in Iraq and other countries in the Middle East have caused many employers concern and uncertainty over workers’ compensation exposures to employees working in those parts of the world. Many consultants, technical representatives, advisors and all variety of workers have been sent overseas to assist directly or indirectly with the war effort. Many construction workers have already been sent to assist in the rebuilding of war-torn Iraq. Those whose memories do not date back to the Vietnam era may not be familiar with the two primary federal statutes which address these matters – the Defense Base Act ("DBA") [42 U.S.C.S. § 1651 et seq.] and the War Hazards Compensation Act ("WHCA") [42 U.S.C.S. § 1701 et seq.] – although all one has to do is pick up a newspaper, magazine or turn on the nightly news to read or hear the latest.

The general purpose of the DBA is to provide uniform and generous compensation benefits to certain civilian employees (domestic and foreign) of private companies doing work overseas in furtherance of American foreign policy.  The general purpose of the WHCA is to shift to the United States government the costs of compensating certain civilian employees (domestic and foreign) of private companies who are working overseas in furtherance of American foreign policy and are injured or killed by a war risk hazard.

The Defense Base Act and War Hazards Compensation Act Handbook combines expert analysis of the substantive law with practice tips and other helpful tools. The handbook is written for attorneys, insurance companies, claims adjusters, judges, defense contractors, injured workers, and others. It provides the reader with a basic introduction to the DBA, its history and purpose, current events, and list of common acronyms and terminology. The handbook discusses coverage issues, underwriting, waivers, exclusivity rules, types of benefits, the claims process, discovery issues, average weekly wage calculations, zone of special danger doctrine, commutations, settlements, and death benefits. There's also a chapter on the WHCA and how benefits are obtained under that Act. At the end of the handbook, a full reprint of the DBA and WHCA statutes is provided.

To view a full table of contents and to order the book, click here.

I hope you will enjoy and find useful the material that is presented in this handbook. I dedicate my contributions to my wife Lynn, who has been a great "Toto" in my journey.


Roger A. Levy
  • 11-14-2008

Congratulations on the Defense Base Act and War Hazards Compensation Act Handbook! We have received many favorable comments from our customers about the book.