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Appeals court upholds comp benefits for worker in Iraq


NEW YORK—Substantial evidence exists to find that a truck driver who worked in Iraq is entitled to the maximum allowable workers compensation benefits under the Defense Base Act, a federal appeals court has ruled.

To reach its decision Thursday that the truck driver’s dry eye condition is compensable, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York first had to determine if it had jurisdiction over Defense Base Act appeals.

The law is a workers comp program administered by the U.S. Department of Labor for injuries sustained by private-sector employees working on military bases outside the United States.

Because of divergences in U.S. laws, federal appeals courts have split over whether they have jurisdiction in DBA appeals cases or whether U.S. district courts have jurisdiction, court records show.

In Service Employees International Inc. and Insurance Co. of the State of Pennsylvania vs. Director, Office of Workers Compensation Program, the 2nd Circuit essentially ruled that legislation adopted in 1972 intended to expedite claims processing by skipping district court proceedings and going directly to an appeals court.

After reaching that conclusion, the court upheld decisions by an administrative law judge and a U.S. Labor Department benefits review board. They ordered the employer to compensate Jesse Barrios for a temporary total disability lasting from Dec. 20, 2005, through May 21, 2006, and a partial disability commencing on May 22, 2006.

The employer was also ordered to pay his medical bills.

Service Employees International appealed, arguing among other issues that Mr. Barrios suffered from an eye syndrome before he worked in Iraq and his condition was not caused by his employment there.

But the appeals court found that even a medical expert for the employer said there was “some possibility” that chronic dryness in Iraq could have worsened the eye problem.

The appeals court also said that the administrative judge rationally inferred that working 13-hour days, seven days a week in Iraq is equivalent to an environmental exposure accumulating over several years of “normal work.”