Defense Base Act Claims: What is it, and who qualifies?

The Defense Base Act is a worker’s compensation scheme that applies to persons working on American military bases that are either located outside of the United States, or, were acquired by the United States from foreign countries.

For example, it would be applicable to U.S. military bases in Iraq ( Operation Iraqi Freedom), Translators working for the U.S. army, contractors working on U.S. military bases, drivers, etc.. would be covered.  Civilian contractors working on military bases in Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom), the middle east, South Korea, Germany, etc… are covered.

The damages, however, are simply for wage loss and medical costs, just like Workers Compensation.  Claimants for injuries suffered as a translator, driver, construction worker, heating-cooling technician, etc… would not be able to claim for pain, suffering, mental distress and emotional anguish under the Act.

Because of the high pay, and layers of payment, in war zones, the wage loss benefit to be recovered can be substantial when compared to other types of personal injury claims.  Another benefit to the injured overseas contractor is the low attorney fees.  In a typical state personal injury action the attorney may be able to recover 1/3 to 40% of the total award through settlement or verdict.  In the Defense Base Act process, the attorney is paid by the hour.  This usually results in fees substantially below the contingency fee of the attorney.  For example, a client may recover $350,000 for post traumatic stress disorder, and the attorney fee would be $18,000 to $30,000, instead of $120,000.  Furthermore, the client share goes directly to the client, and the attorney share goes directly to the attorney.  Costs and expenses are not deducted for the client share.  So, as one can see, it is a system set up to process claims very favorably to the client.

The Act has been extremely beneficial to foreign citizens that assist the U.S forces.  Coverage extends to non-citizens.  When one looks to the courage of an Iraqi citizen assisting the U.S. forces in the Iraqi war in the first decade of this century, this only seems fair.  In my experience as an attorney representing natural born Iraqi’s that worked as translators for the U.S. Army or other military units, the threats faced by them and their families were great.  Especially in the sectarian civil war period, and the great chaos in Baghdad, when Al Queda in Iraq was flourishing, and sectarian militia’s were kidnapping and murdering.  Yet I am stricken by the incredible love these men had for the United States, and how loyal they remain to the United States to this day.  Because of the Iraqi and Arabic communities throughout Michigan, many of these foreign born translators and contractors have settled into Dearborn, Grand Rapids, Sterling Heights, West Bloomfield, and throughout Michigan.

At the time of this writing the major active conflict remains Afghanistan.  An example of the type of claim out of Afghanistan, is that of a heating/cooling contractor who worked on the air conditioning units in Kandahar at an Air Force Base.  His claim is for chronic gastro-intestinal infection, and back injury.  The injury had to arise out of and in the course of employment.  There are time limits that apply, to proper notice, etc… that it is best to consult with your employer at the time of the injury to make a record of the incident; and, and attorney as soon as possible when you are stateside. or through a loved one at home to make sure your rights are protected.

As in any claim, it is best to keep a timeline and record of key names, medical providers, and places to assist you later when you are stateside.  Most likely if you make and prosecute a claim for Defense Base Act benefits and damages, you will have to give a deposition.  This is when your testimony is taken by an attorney for the employer and the employer’s insurance company.  It is an under oath, yourself, your attorney, the other attorney and a court reporter are present.  If you have a timeline,etc…, that you can refer to, you are in the drivers seat in the case. and your testimony in very credible since bolstered by “contemporaneous records”.



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