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Fifth Circuit rules in OCSLA accident case

The workers employed on Louisiana’s numerous offshore oil and gas facilities have very dangerous jobs. They also work under a patchwork of federal and state laws. The state’s workers’ compensation program protects those employed on shore or in state waters, but employees working in state waters or harbors may sometimes be covered by the Longshore and Harbor Worker Compensation Act. This is because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that LHWCA benefits may be paid to workers inured in state waters or harbors if the facility involved was connected to a mineral development, exploration or production operation controlled by the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act.

Pipeline explosion

A case dealing with these issues was argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in August 2020. The case involved a man who was killed in a gas pipeline explosion that took place on a facility in state waters. The appeals judges ruled that the man’s dependents were entitled to LHWCA benefits and not workers’ compensation benefits because the pipeline that blew up connected the facility the man worked on to an extraction operation controlled by the OCSLA.

Supreme Court ruling

Jurisdiction in personal injury cases is usually determined by the place of an accident. This is known as the situs of injury test. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that this test should not be applied strictly in cases arising from injuries or deaths connected to offshore facilities covered by the OCSLA even if they occur on land. The Fifth Circuit ruling extends the scope of the OCSLA further by requiring only a link between the OCSLA facility’s operations and the work being performed at the scene of the accident.

This is a very confusing and complicated area of the law, and offshore or harbor workers who are injured in on-the-job accidents may not know whether to file a workers’ compensation claim or LHWCA claim. Attorneys with experience in cases involving maritime injuries may help injured workers to determine the appropriate course of action, and they might also advocate on their behalf if their claims are challenged or denied.