When And Why You Should Consult A DBA Attorney

Defense Base Act claims are a specific type of workers’ compensation claims. However, this doesn’t mean that your claim will be cut and dry and automatically approved. A good DBA attorney will be on your side of the table during fights over insurance coverage, compensation and medical treatment, and finally during litigation and settlements.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Francisco V. Govea II/Released)

 

On March 3, 2012, Steven Ritzheimer was getting out of his shower in his apartment in Be’er Sheva, Israel when he slipped on the wet floor. With broken ribs and a punctured lung, he spent three days in the hospital for medical treatment. He worked in Israel as a contract force protection officer for the United States Department of Defense. As such, he thought his injuries would be covered under the Defense Base Act (DBA) as he was required under his contract to maintain a neat and professional appearance.

After filing his claim with his employer and DBA insurers, he received his disability benefits for a year before his employer began contesting the payout. His employer argued that showering was merely a personal act and had nothing to do with his contractual obligations or employment conditions. Therefore, according to the employer, the injuries should not be covered. It resulted in a long-drawn-out case between Mr. Ritzheimer and his employer over whether his injuries were indeed covered under the DBA.

Many Defense Base Act claims do not result in such cases. However, this does not mean that a DBA attorney is unnecessary. Had Mr. Ritzheimer not had a Defense Base Act attorney, he would’ve not known how to fight for his rights in the case against his employer.

When To Consult A DBA Attorney

In the case of Mr. Ritzheimer, it was obvious how a DBA lawyer was necessary. The employer made an argument as to why they should not have to pay benefits. After all, they claimed, showering is a personal act. However, because he had a consulted a lawyer that specialized in Defense Base Act cases, Mr. Ritzheimer won his benefits that he was entitled to receive.

Not every claim filed under the DBA is cut and dry as was the case with Steven Ritzheimer. However, the attorney representing Ritzheimer knew that under the Defense Base Act the injuries would be covered. This is because the DBA covers an employee injured during a task that he or she is contractually obligated to uphold. For Mr. Ritzheimer, his contract required him to look clean and professional, which would mean showering frequently because of his living and working conditions. His lawyer knew the DBA coverage would extend to him and his injuries since Ritzheimer was already covered by the DBA as an overseas contractor working for the Department of Defense.

Like Ritzheimer’s case, any DBA claims should be dealt with accordingly – that is, with a Defense Base Act attorney. Civilian contractors working overseas are entitled to the same benefits given to injured workers under the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act. Such lawyers that specialize in these two practice areas are not only going to make sure that you receive the benefits you’re entitled to, but also that your rights are protected under both acts.

 

The Role Of A DBA Attorney

You should never wait to consult a DBA attorney when you’re filing a claim. This is especially true if you’re working in deadly war zones where you live at an increased risk of harm. When you work as a contractor on military bases that fall within “war-risk hazard”, then you receive much higher pay than those who work stateside. Because of this higher pay, when a claim is filed, and compensation issued, you could receive the maximum compensation rate. Currently, this rate is at $1,510.76 per week. As most insurance companies try to do, they may offer you a lower settlement that what you’re entitled to receive. Or, as in the case of Ritzheimer, the employer and carrier may contest the legitimacy of the claim. This is precisely why you should consult a lawyer that specializes in this type of law as soon as you need to file a claim.

A DBA attorney is going to make sure:

  1. You file your claim on time and correctly.
  2. You’re not pressured to take a lower settlement than what you’re entitled to receive.
  3. You receive the maximum compensation available.
  4. You don’t have to pay anything back if an employer or insurance company argues the case.
  5. Your benefits and rights are protected.

What Is The DBA Claim Process?

The DBA claims process is so time-consuming and stressful that it’s just another reason to consult an attorney before you file a claim. The most important thing to do first is to take care of yourself with medical treatment for your injuries. Then, once you’re able to and within a year of the injury date, you’ll need to file your claim with the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Workers Compensation Programs (OWCP), Division of Longshore & Harbor Workers Compensation. Once filed, the OWCP will contact your employer and insurance carrier to notify them of your claim.

This begins “informal proceedings” during which time your attorney will likely seek a “Recommendation” from the OWCP about the benefits you should receive. It is critical that you have an attorney at this stage since there may be serious repercussions if you don’t receive a favorable recommendation. But, if neither party accepts the Recommendation, you have the right to a “formal” adjudication by an Administrative Law Judge. The decisions of the judge are binding on the parties. However, you can also appeal to a higher court.

 

The “Formal” Process

This “formal” process requires an attorney to help you and represent you through each step – from questioning and preparing documents to hearings and final settlements.  Before any hearing, your attorney will request written documents and information from your employer, and vice versa.  You will also be asked to sit for a deposition under oath. Your attorney may also take the deposition of your doctor, related experts, and the insurance adjuster. This part of the process is particularly important to handle with your attorney.

As part of the formal adjudication, the judge will conduct a Hearing where you and other witnesses will testify.  Based on that testimony and other evidence submitted by the attorneys, the Judge will issue a decision and order stating what benefits to which you are, or are not, entitled. During this entire process, your lawyer will be representing you and your best interests. They will be and should be doing their part to prove your case so that you can receive your benefits.

 

Are There Any Alternatives?

An alternative to the long and arduous process of a DBA claim can also end in a settlement before the formal adjudication. Usually, this is where many DBA claims end up going. However, a settlement doesn’t mean that you won’t need an attorney. A DBA lawyer will still make sure that you’re getting what you’re entitled to, even in a settlement. Furthermore, a claim can also be resolved with Stipulations, or agreement between the parties.  Even so, you don’t want to accept anything less than what you’re entitled to, which means getting an attorney that can represent you and your interests.

At Moschetta Law Firm, we specialize in Defense Base Act claims. Our attorneys will make sure your best interests are represented during every step of the process so that you receive your due benefits. If you need to file a claim, or have already filed a claim and need representation, contact our office today.