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Ruling gives injured dock worker state comp remedy


HARTFORD, Conn.--A ruling by the Connecticut Supreme Court essentially increases employers' exposure for injured waterfront workers by making employers concurrently liable under state and federal laws.

The decision Tuesday in Michael Coppola vs. Logistec Connecticut Inc. involved an injured worker who filed claims under the federal Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act as well as Connecticut's workers comp system.

Mr. Coppola was injured in 1999 while unloading a ship, and his employer argued that the Longshore Act should provide an exclusive remedy. A state workers compensation review board agreed.

But Connecticut's Supreme Court found that the board should not have dismissed Mr. Coppola's application for state workers comp.

"We conclude that the state has concurrent jurisdiction with the federal government over claims involving injuries incurred on navigable waters when the employer and the employee are locally based, the employment contract is performed within the state and partly on land, the injury took place on the state's territorial waters and the employer was required under the state act to secure compensation for any land-based injuries incurred by the employee," the court found.

The ruling runs counter to a growing trend of state court findings that benefits should be provided exclusively under either the state or the federal law, said Jack Martone, senior vp in Washington for American Equity Underwriters Inc., which provides coverage for maritime employers.

The Longshore Act provides employers credit if they pay benefits under a state act, Mr. Martone said. But because benefit structures often differ between the federal and state systems, employers often must pay benefits under both, Mr. Martone said.