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A Guide to the Defense Base Act

June 28, 2022

A Guide to the Defense Base Act

If you work for a federal contractor at a military or overseas government installation, you are entitled to certain statutory protections that ensure you can receive compensation in the event you are injured on the job. These protections are codified under federal law in the Defense Base Act. As an employee of a contractor working for the U.S. government, it is important that you familiarize yourself with the DBA and understand when the act may apply to you and what your rights to compensation are if you sustain a work-related injury. 

What Is the Defense Base Act?

The Defense Base Act is a statute that requires that financial compensation and medical care be provided to civilian employees, such as those employed by government contractors, when those employees are injured while working under a federal contract on a U.S. military base or other overseas location. The DBA statutorily requires federal government contractors to ensure that they have the necessary insurance coverage or financial resources to self-insure to provide an injured covered worker with the compensation and other benefits they are entitled to under the act. 

When Does the Defense Base Act Apply?

The DBA applies to:

  • Employees who work for private employers on U.S. military bases or on any overseas property (including U.S. territories and possessions( used by the federal government for military purposes
  • Employees who are working under public contracts with a federal agency, including construction or service contracts, in connection with defense or war activities outside the U.S.
  • Employees working on contracts under the Foreign Assistance Act, including for cash sale of military equipment, materials, and services to U.S. allies, when those contracts are performed outside the U.S.
  • Working for U.S. employers that provide welfare and similar services outside the U.S. for members of the Armed Forces, such as the USO

Any employee engaged in any of the above forms of work, regardless of the employee’s nationality, is covered by the DBA. 

What Benefits Can an Injured Worker Get Under the Defense Base Act?

The DBA requires that any applicable public contract contain provisions requiring contractors to maintain workers’ compensation insurance or be approved to self-insure for workers’ comp. Every covered employer is liable to pay an injured eligible employee medical, disability, and death benefits in the event of the employee’s injury or death. Contractors are also considered the employer of their subcontractor’s employees if the subcontractor fails to provide the required compensation and benefits. 

The DBA effectively extends the benefits that are authorized by the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. Benefits available under the DBA include:

  • Wage replacement benefits when an employee is temporarily disabled from working, or if they have a reduction in income due to needing to take a part-time or lower-paying light-duty role during recovery. Benefits are two-thirds of the employee’s average weekly earnings or two-thirds of the difference between the average weekly earnings and the employee’s reduced earnings on modified duty. Benefits are capped at a maximum weekly rate.
  • Permanent total disability benefits, which continue wage replacement for life or for as long as the employee remains unable to perform any kind of gainful employment
  • Payment for all medical treatment and rehabilitation expenses from any provider chosen by the employee.
  • Death benefits equal to one-half of the employee’s average weekly earnings when paid to only one surviving spouse or dependent child, or two-thirds of earnings when paid to two or more surviving dependents, which may be payable for life.

The Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP), the DOL agency responsible for overseeing the DBA, can choose to terminate permanent disability or death benefits paid to non-U.S. citizens and residents by paying half of the present value of future compensation. 

If an employer fails to provide workers’ compensation as required by the DBA, an injured employee or the surviving family of a deceased employee may elect to file a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit against the employer. The officers of a corporate employer can be held personally liable in such lawsuits, jointly and severally with the employer. 

How Do You File a DBA Claim?

To file a claim for compensation under the DBA, you should notify your employer of your work injury or occupational disease as soon as possible, so that your employer can notify its insurer or its claims administrator of your claim. Your employer will also need to file a First Report of Injury with the OWCP within 10 days of your injury if you miss one or more work shifts. 

If your employer denies your claim for benefits or terminates your benefits, you have one year from the date of your injury or the date of last payment of compensation to file a written claim for benefits with OWCP. The agency will try to facilitate a settlement between you and your employer. But if no settlement is reached, you can request that your DBA claim be referred to the Office of Administrative Law for a formal hearing before an administrative law judge. 

Are There Cases Where the DBA Does Not Apply?

Any federal department or agency may request the Secretary of Labor waive the DBA for any specific contract, location, or class of employees. Waivers do not apply to U.S. citizens or permanent residents or to workers hired in the U.S. Waivers are also only valid where other workers’ compensation benefits are provided to waived employees according to the relevant local law. 

Contact The Law Offices of Preston Easley for a Free Case Evaluation If You Were Injured While Working on Under a Federal Contract

If you were hurt in an accident or incident while working on a federal contract on a military base, you may have rights to recover compensation. Contact The Law Offices of Preston Easley today for a free, no-obligation consultation to discuss your legal options with a maritime accident attorney from our firm and to learn more about how the Defense Base Act may apply to your case.

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Areas Where We Practice

Preston Easley is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. He served five years of active duty as a Naval officer — three years as a deck officer on a fast frigate and two years as a patrol boat skipper. Mr. Easley also served aboard a tank landing ship in the reserves.




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Preston Easley is an experienced lawyer with considerable expertise in handling federal and state personal injury cases. He will aggressively seek the maximum amount of compensation you are entitled to receive. Attorney Easley represents victims of serious and fatal accidents involving cars, trucks, construction projects and maritime work.

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