Maritime Acts – Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA)

In 1927, the United States Congress passed a law that would ensure employees working on a maritime vessel would receive compensation and medical benefits if they became injured or disabled due to a work-related injury. Prior to the legislation, court rulings would deny benefits to state workers injured on navigable waters.

The LHWCA provides several benefits to individuals injured within U.S. navigable waters, including payment for:

  • Compensation for the injury
  • Medical care
  • Vocational rehabilitation
  • Survivor benefits, to dependents of a worker deceased as a result of the work injury

Benefits are usually paid either by an insured employer or a private insurer on its behalf. Occupational diseases, illnesses, and conditions such as hearing loss are covered.

Covered Employees

To be eligible for coverage, a worker may have been on board a vessel or involved in its loading or unloading, repair, or construction. Shipbuilders, repair personnel, harbor construction workers, and longshore workers, among others engaged in traditional maritime operations, are covered. Any employee injured while working on a dock, pier, wharf, or terminal can file a claim under the Act as well. Also, a non-maritime employee may be covered, given their job duties take place on or near navigable waters.


Individuals excluded from the Act include crew members and masters, government employees, and people injured because of intoxication or intention to cause harm. Those employed for work involving clerical, secretarial, data processing, or security duties are also exempt. Recreational workers, most marina employees, aquaculture employees, camp/restaurant/retail/museum personnel, and recreational vessel builders (for boats less than 65 feet long) are also not included.

Amendment of 1972

Several issues arose after the LHWCA was passed. The law didn’t have a clear definition of jurisdictional boundaries, making it hard for courts to determine if this law or workers’ compensation laws applied. Also, claims would be filed under the general maritime law at the same time, involving a ship’s unseaworthiness, and leading to contracts to be signed voiding the shipowner of liability in the case of onboard injuries. There were also third-party lawsuits (third-part-over suits) when workers would sue a shipowner, who would, in turn, sue their employer for contributory negligence. The amendment addressed all these issues:

  • Preventing injured workers from suing vessel owners and claiming the vessel is unseaworthy, although third-parties including the owner could be cited for negligence.
  • Eliminating the enforceability of agreements between employers and vessel owners that free them of liability.
  • Increasing benefits to more than what state compensation laws offered.
  • Forbidding third-party-over suits to be filed.

How the U.S. Department of Labor Applies the LHWCA

The Department’s Division of Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation and its Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs maintain all injury and death records based on reports filed under the law. Claims are reviewed to determine what benefits are paid. Individuals can receive accurate information and assistance regarding their entitlement to compensation, benefits, and rehabilitation. In the case of claims disputes, assistance is provided to resolve these, conduct informal conferences, and request hearings before Administrative Law Judges.

Injuries must be reported, in writing, to employers within 30 days of their occurrence or when one became aware of an injury or disability related to their job. Employer representatives or supervisors should be notified quickly, using Form LS-201, Notice of Employee’s Injury or Death and, to file a claim, Form LS-203, Employee’s Claim for Compensation.

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