In an unpublished decision, the Fifth Circuit addressed Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act coverage for an employee cleaning beaches after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The facts were not disputed:
On August 21, 2010, Global [Management Enterprise] employee Librado De La Cruz was allegedly injured while lifting a bag of oil-laden sand that would later be loaded onto a truck and transferred to a vessel for removal. It is undisputed that De La Cruz spent up to two hours actively loading and unloading the vessel at the pier, and six or seven hours cleaning the beaches. At the time of the incident, De La Cruz was working on a beach located a few feet from Gulf waters and around a half-mile from the pier at which the vessel docked.
After his injury, Global’s insurer began paying state workers’ compensation benefits. De La Cruz then filed a Longshore Act claim which caused the insurer to cease paying benefits , citing the policy’s longshoreman exclusion. Accordingly, the question in this case became whether Claimant “sustained the alleged injury at a location covered by the Act.”
Here, De La Cruz was injured on a beach. For a worksite to fall under the Longshore Act, it must (1) adjoin navigable waters; and (2) customarily be used by an employer to facilitate the loading, unloading, repairing, dismantling, or building of a vessel. De La Cruz was most definitely injured at a location adjoining navigable waters. But, he was not injured at “a location customarily used by an employer for a covered activity.”
The Fifth Circuit highlighted a few facts which supported its conclusion. For instance, there were no structures on the beach, which was a remote island known only as G1. There was no evidence that the island was ever the home of longshore activities. And despite the carriers argument, the court would not view “the beach and the pier together . . . as a single area customarily used for longshore activities.” The “single area” argument–though clever–failed because “the beach and dock are not interconnected parts of a larger area used to facilitate longshore activity.”
Ultimately, the Fifth Circuit held that De La Cruz was not injured on a situs covered by the Longshore Act. Therefore, he was not entitled to Longshore benefits, and the carrier was not entitled to cease paying compensation based on a longshore exclusion in the policy.
Global Mgmt. Enters., LLC v. Commerce & Indus. Ins. Co., No. 13-31249, slip op. (5th Cir. June 23, 2014)
(Note: I originally published this post on Navigable Waters: A Maritime, Longshore and Defense Base Act Blog.)