After an accident or injury, injured workers need to know what it will take to help secure the Defense Base Act compensation they need to provide for themselves and their families. While workers are entitled to support under The Act, benefits are never guaranteed.
Big corporations and their powerful insurance companies who pay claims often attempt to deny otherwise legitimate claims for various reasons. However, with the right mindset, understanding of the process, and legal representation, injured workers can give themselves a better chance of obtaining benefits.
Cooperation between clients and attorneys is one of the most crucial aspects of resolving a Defense Base Act claim successfully.
From the onset of a claim, attorneys rely on their clients to collect almost all of the important documents to help verify and strengthen a claim. Without cooperation, attorneys will have an uphill battle to prove the claim is valid.
Cooperation between client and attorney includes:
● Acquiring initial documentation like the notice of injury from employee to employer, medical and clinical records, and any incident reports created
● Correspondence between worker and employer including any permission requests to seek medical treatment or coordinating transportation back to the U.S. for medical treatment
● Ongoing cooperation to catalogue other correspondence between employee and employer and get copies of employment contracts.
Before any Defense Base Act claims can be filed, attorneys need to verify that an incident took place and that the employer may have been made aware of it. Cooperation is vital to helping verify claims and other necessary steps. To help verify injury/illness claims, clients should make sure they get copies of all their medical records before returning stateside. Once home, injured workers should immediately seek medical care to document the progress of the condition. Injured workers must notify their employer immediately of any injury or illness suffered in the workplace, even after duty, especially in places like Iraq and Afghanistan where employees are essentially on duty 24 hours per day.
Pieces of information clients should collect when helping verify claims with their attorneys include:
● Time frames of the accident, medical care
● Scope of work being performed
● Documents surrounding the event
● Type of work environment that caused the injury or condition
Documentation of an injury and subsequent medical treatment may sometimes make or break a claim. Without proper documentation, it may be difficult to convince Administrative Law Judges or insurance adjusters that claims are deserving of compensation and benefits.
Vital documents required for a successful Defense Base Act claim include:
● Medical evidence of treatment
● Proof of medical advice for continued treatment
● Medical documentation of work limitations
● Documentation of professional medical opinions
● Incident reports, police reports
After a workplace accident, injured workers need to immediately seek medical treatment to document their condition, and they must also notify their employers as soon as possible. Furthermore, clients need to acquire as many of their medical records before leaving their assignment to return home for medical treatment.
Once an attorney is provided with verification of a claim through documentation, formal claims may be filed with the Department of Labor to preserve the worker’s rights to receive benefits. Generally speaking, claims must be reported to an employer within 30 days of the incident.
In cases of industrial illness – hearing loss, a psychiatric injury, etc. – reporting can be done later on but in no event in more than 1 year from the date the employee knew or should have known that the condition was related to the work environment.
Once claims are filed and the client’s rights preserved, employers and their insurance companies are put on notice by the Department of Labor. After preservation of the claim, attorneys begin the representation phase of the claim, whereby attorneys begin to craft strategies, negotiate with claims adjusters, and prepare the case for mediation and formal hearings.
After verifying claims, securing documentation, and filing notice of claims to preserve a client’s legal right to seek benefits, attorneys begin the representation to help their clients. In addition to all the information provided by the client, attorneys will request more documentation from the employer and its insurance company during the discovery process.
Discovery is the process where both sides in a claim ask for and exchange information about a claim. Each side sends interrogatories (written questions) and may conduct depositions (asking witnesses questions, talking to doctors, etc.).
During discovery, attorneys [Representation page] will seek to determine:
● When the employer knew about the injury
● What the employer documented in any incident reports
● How much the employer knew about the injury
● When the employer reported the injury/illness to the Department of Labor and its insurance company
As the client’s legal representative, attorneys litigate claims on their behalf. Litigation is much more than filing claims and going to court. Litigating a case all the way to a formal hearing before an Administrative Law Judge in Washington, D.C. is not the ideal solution to resolving claims, but is sometimes the only way as a Judge is the only one who can force an employer/insurance company to accept a claim as compensable.
Following an injury, workers may be faced with huge medical bills from paying for their own treatment and the financial impact of lost income while recovering. To resolve claims as expediently as possible, attorneys can engage with claims adjusters prior to formal hearings.
Typical litigation steps in a Defense Base Act claim:
● Informal conferences – Either side may request an informal conference to resolve Defense Base Act Claims. District Directors from the Department of Labor officiate these hearings and are meant to be impartial mediators.
● Formal Hearings – If no agreement can be worked out informally, the claim will go before an Administrative Law Judge who will hand out a binding ruling on the claim
● Benefits Review Board – If either side is unhappy with the judgement handed down at the Formal Hearing, an appeal may be heard before the Benefits Review Board
● Appeals in District Court – Defense Base act claims may be appealed all the way to District Court to bring resolution to the case
The desired result of filing and litigating Defense Base Act claims is to gain compensation for injury victims and their families. The Act entitles workers injured on overseas government projects benefits for:
● Medical treatment
● Lost wages
● Permanent disabilities
● Vocational retraining
● Death benefits to surviving dependent family members
The goal of litigating Defense Base Act claims is to gather as much information as possible through cooperation between client and attorney, craft the strongest case possible, and either administratively resolving claims with insurance adjusters or their attorneys in order to maximize compensation to victims.
Defense Base Act Lawyers
If you or a loved one suffered an injury overseas working on a military base, government installation, or other federal project, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A. Our attorneys have the experience and resources necessary to help successfully prosecute Defense Base Act claims and get victims and their families the compensation they deserve.