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THE LONG AND SHORE OF IT
By Kevin L. Connors, Esquire
In Savoy v. WCAB, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court affirmed the underlying Decisions of the Appeal Board and the WCJ, with the Appeal Board affirming the WCJ’s Decision to deny the Claimant’s Claim Petition, finding that the Claimant’s claim fell within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Federal Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (Longshore Act), and could not, therefore, be adjudicated under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act.
Working for Global Associates as an Electrician assigned to work on U.S. Navy vessels in the Philadelphia Navy Yard, the Claimant was injured in 2013, while walking along a passageway on a naval ship, when he tripped and twisted his right knee.
In 2014, the Claimant filed a Claim Petition, alleging that he had sustained a work-related torn right lateral meniscus. Under his Claim Petition, the Claimant sought temporary total disability benefits, with Hearings then proceeding before the WCJ.
In the course of litigating the Claim Petition, it was stipulated that the Claimant was receiving benefits for his injury under the Longshore Act. For that reason, the case was then bifurcated to address whether the Claimant was entitled to concurrent compensation under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, as opposed to benefits under the Longshore Act being exclusive.
In deciding the issue, the WCJ found the Claimant’s testimony to be credible to establish that the ship in which he was injured was on navigable waters of the United States at the time of his work injury, and that, therefore, the Claimant’s claim fell exclusively within the jurisdiction of the Federal Longshore Act, finding further that the Claimant had no entitlement to workers’ compensation benefits under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act.
On Appeal before the Appeal Board, the Board held that the Claimant’s testimony established several crucial facts, to include that the ship on which he was injured was “on the water” at the time of his injury, as opposed to being in a dry dock, which would have potentially triggered the concurrent jurisdiction under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act.
Concluding that the Claimant was injured on a ship that was “on the water” at the time of injury, the Appeal Board affirmed the WCJ’s Decision, holding that the Claimant’s exclusive remedy was under the Longshore Act.
Appealing to the Commonwealth Court, the Claimant argued that there was insufficient evidence to establish that the ship was “on the navigable waters of the United States” when he was injured, a prerequisite for exclusive jurisdiction under the Longshore Act. Arguing that the record was unclear as to the precise location of the ship within the Philadelphia Navy Yard at the time of injury, the Claimant sought a remand, arguing that additional evidence was required to determine whether concurrent jurisdiction under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act was proper.
Concluding that the evidence of record established that the ship on which the Claimant was injured was “on the water” when the injury occurred, the Commonwealth Court held that the Claimant’s exclusive remedy for benefits for his injury was under the Longshore Act, and that the facts surrounding the Claimant’s injury did not support a concurrent jurisdiction scenario.
So holding, the Commonwealth Court concluded that the Claimant’s injury and claim did not fall within a “twilight zone” exception that had been carved out by the United States Supreme Court underDavis v. Department Labor of Industries of Washington, 317 U.S. 249 (1942), permitting concurrent jurisdiction when an injury occurs within a “twilight zone”, when an Employee’s injury occurs in a location that is neither strictly maritime nor strictly land-based.
Davis involved a Steelworker who was killed while dismantling a bridge over navigable waters, with the Supreme Court finding that the deceased Steelworker was entitled to concurrent jurisdiction for the claim, since the injury occurred over navigable waters, triggering jurisdiction under the Longshore Act, and it involved the repair of a bridge, a non-maritime function, triggering jurisdiction under a State Compensation Act.
Relying upon the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s ruling in Wellsville Terminal Company v. WCAB, 632 A.2d 1305 (Pa. 1993), wherein the Court stated that “the outlines of a case of an injury received on navigable waters while engaged in essential repairs to an existing vessel have long been clear and distinct… As to them there is no twilight.”, further holding that the mere tethering of a ship to land is not a sufficient nexus to classify activities on the ship as being “land-based” for purposes of asserting jurisdiction under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act.
So reasoning, the Savoy Court concluded that the Claimant’s injury did not fit within theDavis “twilight zone” exception, since the Claimant was injured while performing a traditional maritime function of ship repair while the vessel in which he was injured was “on the water.”
It seemed like a pretty shore thing.
In truth, this question probably got as far as it did because there is probably significant difference in the benefits potentially available to the Claimant under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, as opposed to under the Federal Longshore Act. Without presuming to be a natural swimmer through the Longshore Act, one must presume that the procedural path to benefits under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act is procedurally easier, that the benefit award might be higher, and that it is more difficult to terminate a workers’ compensation benefit claim under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, as opposed to under the Longshore Act.
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