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June 17th, 2010

Circuit Courts Split Over Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act

A recent Ninth Circuit decision has given new insight into how courts will interpret coverage for injured offshore workers under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA).  In Valladolid v. Pacific Operations Offshore, LLP, the Ninth Circuit held that an employee need not be injured on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) to be eligible to receive benefits under OCSLA.

Under other interpretations of the Act, the “situs-of-injury” test would hold that a maritime worker would have to have been hurt on the OCS to recover under OCSLA.  Here, the Ninth Circuit found that the OSCLA Workers Compensation provision 43 USCA §1333(b) can apply to injuries occurring off of the OCS as long as they occur “as the result of operations conducted on the outer continental shelf.”  There needs only be a “substantial nexus” between the injury and the operations.

The three Circuits that have considered this issue disagree with each other, including our own Fifth Circuit which requires the “situs-of-injury” requirement.   That disagreement plus the national outrage over the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and subsequent massive oil spill makes this issue one to watch.  Our maritime lawyers believe that this facet of OCSLA will ultimately go before the Supreme Court.

At this time, the OCSLA standard employed in the Ninth Circuit and the Third Circuit lacks a situs-of-injury-component, in contrast to the standard employed in the Fifth Circuit. Absent an authoritative statement by the Supreme Court, it will be up to Congress to clarify the statutory language so as to resolve the split in federal circuit positions on this important maritime injury law issue.

If you have been injured while working on the Outer Continental Shelf, you should contact the OCSLA Attorneys of Schechter, Shaffer & Harris, L.L.P., Accident & Injury Lawyers  Our maritime law firm has over 45 years of experience handling complex, multi-million dollar offshore injury cases.  No recovery, no fee owed and loans are available where legally allowed.

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