Ongoing Worker's Comp Case Under the Longshoreman and Harbor Workers' Act

Question:

I have an ongoing workers comp case that falls under the Federal Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Act that’s going fine, but my question is regarding the company I was working for. I told them of my concerns about the way they had me doing the job.  The project manager said to do it this way so we can make more money, and work was slow then so I didn’t want to make a big deal. That decision cost me three surgeries and back problems.

There should have been a different company doing the under pier work that was familiar with how to work with the tides and setup proper work scaffoldings. I was just an electrical foremanon the job and ended up doing parts of the job that should have been subbed out to pier workers. I let everyone know that I should not be under that pier working out of a rowboat. Do I have a case against my employer?

Answer:

As you know, the Federal Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act is a system of workers’ compensation for individuals injured while performing longshore or maritime work on the navigable waters of the United States, or in adjoining waterfront areas.  In some cases, the injured employee’s rights under the Federal Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act can overlap with those under the state workers’ compensation laws.  In other cases, the Federal Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act provides the exclusive remedy against the employer for work-related injuries, and there are no rights against the employer under state law.

Like most workers’ compensation systems, the Federal Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act generally does not permit an injured worker to maintain a civil lawsuit against the employer for work injuries.  The basic public policy underlying workers’ compensation, whether under the Federal Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act or state workers’ compensation laws, is a tradeoff:  Labor has given up its right to sue the employer for industrial injuries, while employers have given up the fault-based liability system that existed under the old common law.  As a result of this exchange, employees now enjoy a no-fault system of compensation that provides few, if any, legal defenses to the employer, but whose benefits are strictly limited to payments for lost time, medical reimbursement and permanent disability.

In Illinois, it is possible to maintain a civil lawsuit for personal injuries against someone other than the employer – known as a “third party” claim – if it can be proven that the injury was caused by the carelessness or misconduct of that “third party.”  However, if only the employer was at fault, there is generally no right to maintain a civil lawsuit.  In such cases, the injured worker’s exclusive remedy is under the applicable workers’ compensation law – in your case, under the Federal Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act.