By Gillian S. Davies | 63 Am. U. L. Rev. 1901 (2014)
The Longshore and Harbor Worker’s Compensation Act (LHWCA), first passed in 1927 and significantly amended in 1972, provides compensation for employees injured in the course of certain maritime employment. Initially, the Act’s strict location-based requirement allowed only those injured on “navigable waters” to receive compensation, but the 1972 amendments extended coverage to workers who were injured on certain “adjoining areas,” provoking much controversy over which workers could receive coverage and where they must be working. Today, claimants must satisfy both a status (employment) requirement and a situs (geographical) requirement to receive coverage. Essentially, the question becomes how far to extend coverage, and the courts have split, most favoring one extreme or the other.
On April 29, 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit decided a worker’s compensation case under the LHWCA, holding that the worker’s injury had not occurred on a qualifying situs. The court looked to the “plain meaning” of the Act, overruling its former precedent in Texports Stevedore Co. v. Winchester, and adopted an approach similar to the Fourth Circuit’s narrow interpretation of the situs requirement. This result differs significantly from the Third and Ninth Circuits’ broad interpretations of the Act, which focus on Congress’s intent in passing the Act, rather than the plain meaning of the statute. Such liberal interpretations provide that sites further from navigable waters qualify for coverage, but they also potentially fail to put appropriate bounds on the Act; as a result, some courts utterly disregard the Act’s situs requirement in cases that satisfy the status requirement and provide over-inclusive coverage beyond what Congress likely intended.
This Comment argues that the Fifth Circuit inappropriately overruled its own precedent, using a simplistic, plain-meaning interpretation of the LHWCA to discard Congress’s purpose in passing the Act and create further inconsistency in the relief provided to injured workers by the various circuit courts.