OCSLA Covers Auto Accident, Says Benefits Review Board
The Benefits Review Board, the appellate arm overseeing the administration of the Longshore Act and its extensions, recently examined an important U.S. Supreme Court decision involving injuries related to offshore oil and gas production. The Board found coverage under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (“OCSLA”) for an offshore worker injured in an accident while onshore driving his personal vehicle from his home in Church Point, Louisiana, to a designated rendezvous site on a dock in Freshwater City, Louisiana. In his employment, the claimant used specialized equipment to test tanks on offshore platforms located on the Outer Continental Shelf. His employer paid him mileage reimbursement and compensation for his onshore travel time. In the year prior to his accident, the employee worked 89.2 percent of his time actually offshore.
In 2012, the Supreme Court held in in Pacific Operators Offshore v. Valladolid, 132 S. Ct. 680 (2012), that an employee’s injuries are covered by OCSLA, even if the injuries do not occur while the employee is on the shelf, if the employee’s injuries have a “substantial nexus” to the employer’s extractive operations on the shelf. The Court stated in Valladolid that there must be “a significant causal link between the injury that [a claimant] suffered and his employer’s on-OCS operations conducted for the purpose of extracting natural resources from the OCS.” This decision overruled precedent from the U.S. Fifth Circuit which adhered to a “situs-of-injury” test that required a worker’s injury actually to occur on or over the Outer Continental Shelf.
The employer in the recent BRB decision argued that the “substantial nexus” test set out by the Supreme Court in Valladolid meant that the injury must be “caused by” the employer’s actual operations on the Shelf. As a result, the employer argued that the claimant’s injuries, caused by a vehicle accident onshore, were not sufficiently related to its operations on the shelf to merit coverage under OCSLA. Rejecting the employer’s arguments, the Board stated that the Valladolid holding “clearly and unambiguously anticipates” that an employee injured while not on the shelf may nevertheless be covered by OCSLA.
In the original hearing, the administrative law judge had found that the claimant was transporting himself and his equipment to a customer’s boat dock at the time of the car accident, and that the employer paid mileage and wages during this activity. The ALJ also determined that the employee’s work testing tanks was directly related to OCS extractive operations. Therefore, the ALJ ruled, the employee’s work at the time of the accident was in the course of his employment and furthered the employer’s extractive operations on the shelf. Affirming this determination, the Board further explained that, while “coming and going” from work is generally not covered, the employee’s travel to the dock fell under an exception to this rule that provides coverage when the employer pays the employee’s wages and expenses for the travel.
In Valladolid, the Supreme Court recognized that its “substantial nexus” test “may not be the easiest to administer.” The Court left it to the lower courts to develop its test by considering the “individual circumstances of each case.” This new decision by the Benefits Review Board adds important guidance in applying the “substantial nexus” test.
Boudreaux v. Owensby & Kritikos, Inc., BRB No. 15-0117 (12/21/15)