Location, job function, employer all are considered under maritime laws

The Parties

Mr. Flores worked at construction and inspected electrical systems for MMR.

MMR Constructors is a part of the MMR Group, which works in the fields of electrical and instrumentation construction, maintenance, management, and technical services.

The Facts

Mr. Flores received his injury while he was inspecting electrical systems on the hull of what is to become Chevron’s tension leg platform Big Foot. This occurred while Big Foot was floating at the dock of the Kiewit yard on Corpus Christi Bay.

Employment Conditions

The injuries

Mr. Flores injured his left Achilles tendon.

The employer’s actions

MMR Constructors paid Mr. Flores benefits under the Texas Workers’ Compensation Act from February 12 through October 20 of 2014.  MMR Constructors also paid Mr. Flores his medical benefits.

Results of the Initial Hearing

The administrative law judge found that Mr. Flores was injured upon navigable waters. In addition, his presence upon those waters was not transient or fortuitous. However, the administrative law judge denied coverage because he found that Mr. Flores is not an employee of a “statutory employer” under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. Also, the issues before the administrative law judge included whether there was coverage under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, as well as the nature and extent of Mr. Flores’s disability, his average weekly wage, and whether Mr. Flores was entitled to any additional medical expenses.

The administrative law judge further found that the Big Foot is not a “vessel” according to an earlier Board decision,  Baker v. Gulf Island Marine Fabricators, LLC, 49 BRBS 45 (2015). Essentially, the administrative law judge said that although Mr. Flores met the geographic component of the location requirement because he was injured on navigable waters, he did not meet the functional component of the location requirement because the Big Foot is not considered to be a “vessel.” Also, the administrative law judge decided that Mr. Flores was not a shipbuilder or engaged in other maritime employment, that therefore he did not satisfy the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act’s status requirement. Finally, the administrative law judge also found that MMR Constructors was not a maritime employer.

The Appeal

Mr. Flores appealed the administrative law judge’s ruling, in an effort to be awarded disability payments. He asserted that it was improper for the administrative law judge to find that he was injured on navigable water, and was not there on transiently or fortuitously, but to still end up being denied coverage under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act.

Mr. Flores contended that he was a “classically-covered employee”, because his work upon navigable waters was “maritime employment.”  In addition, he asserted that the administrative law judge made an error when creating an additional, separate, requirement that MMR Constructors had to be a “maritime employer.”  Mr. Flores argued, and the Director agreed, that if an employee is engaged in “maritime employment,” then MMR Constructors would be a “maritime employer” within the meaning of the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act.  As occupations other than those enumerated in Section 2(3) of the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act may be covered, an employer can be a “maritime employer” even though its usual business was “non-maritime.”  They asserted that coverage requires only that the injury had to have occurred while Mr. Flores was working in his regular capacity on the Big Foot while it was floating over navigable waters. And there is not a separate criterion of “maritime employer.”  Case precedent supported the position of Mr. Flores and the Director; therefore the administrative appeal judges reversed the administrative law judge’s finding that Mr. Flores’s injury was not covered by the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act.

The Ruling on Appeal

First, the administrative appeals judges determined that precedent established that an employee who is injured on navigable waters is covered by the Act because his work on those waters is considered to be “maritime employment.” Furthermore, the relationship of Mr. Flores’s employment determines the employer’s status as a statutory employer. And that includes not only where an employee is working, but also the nature of their work. That is, the ‘situs’ (location) and ‘status’ requirements for coverage of maritime work-related injuries under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act.

In this case, Mr. Flores’s injury occurred while he was inspecting electrical wiring on the Big Foot hull while it was tied to a dock and it was floating on navigable waters.  No party to this claim disputes the administrative law judge’s findings that Mr. Flores’s injury occurred on navigable waters and that his presence on the water was neither fortuitous nor transient That is, he was performing his regular job. Mr. Flores, therefore, was engaged in maritime employment when he was injured.

According to the administrative appeal judges, application of long-standing case precedent therefore established that Mr. Flores’s employer was a “maritime employer” with at least one employee engaged in maritime employment. Hence Mr. Flores was covered by the Act when he sustained his injury.  Therefore, they reversed the administrative law judge’s finding that Mr. Flores’s injury did not occur within the Act’s coverage, and they remanded (returned for further consideration) the case for the administrative law judge to address the remaining issues raised by the parties.

The Takeaway

In order for a claim to be covered by the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, a claimant has to establish that his injury occurred upon the navigable waters of the United States. And this includes any dry dock.  Or, the claimant can show that his injury occurred on a landward area covered by the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act ‘s Section 3(a). Also, the claimant has to prove that his work is maritime in nature according to the Act’s Section 2(3) and is not specifically excluded by any provision in the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act.

Mr. Flores persevered and, as a result, his argument won the day.

Henry T. Flores v. MMR Constructors, Inc.
https://www.dol.gov/brb/decisions/lngshore/published/16-0133.htm