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A Case Study - Defense Base Act "Zone of Special Danger"

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A Wide DBA Zone of Special Danger - Includes Grocery Shopping

Those of you that regularly read this website, know that I like to follow the new Defense Base Act cases that are published. I think it is both interesting to me and my readers. In this post I discuss a recent case about the Defense Base Act - DBA Zone of Special Danger.  A topic that I will be covering in by new Defense Base Act podcast series. However, I didn’t mention this new case in the podcast, so I thought I would feature it in this post.


What is the “Zone of Special Danger?”

The United States Supreme Court has held that an employee may be within the course of employment, even if the injury did not occur within the space and time boundaries of work, so long as the “obligations or conditions of employment” create a“zone of special danger” out of which the injury arises. What you are going to see that in real life cases - the zone of special danger usually encompasses just about any injury/ death that occurs while overseas.


A head-on taxi accident while going for groceries

In this tragic case, the Decedent (the guy that dies) worked for a DOD lab in Tbilisi, Georgia, as a Chief Engineer.  Thus, this is interesting on several fronts, including that it did not occur in Afghanistan or Iraq like most recent DBA cases.  Thus, if your case was in Iraq or Afghanistan - there is probably even more of a chance that it will be found to fall under the zone of special danger.

Getting back to this case, in addition to his wages he received a monthly allotment for housing and utilities, and hazard pay.  The DBA employer provided him  with vouchers for taxi service for use within a 25 kilometer radius of the city center. The use of the taxis was not restricted by time of day or purpose of travel.

Decedent was killed when a taxi he was a passenger in was hit head-on by another car.

The trial judge (called an administrative law judge) held decedent’s accident in an employer-provided taxi on his way to a grocery store was a foreseeable risk. And it was incident to the obligations and conditions of his employment, and therefore is compensable under the “zone of special danger” doctrine.

Those of you that have followed my writings and musings on the zone of special danger would understand that this was the correct ruling under the law.  Nevertheless, as usually happens in Defense Base Act litigation, the DBA insurance company appealed. No surprise there - its par for the course, so to speak.


DBA insurance company’s argument on why this was not a “zone of special danger” case

The DBA insurance company appeals argued that the was not a zone of special danger case because Decedent’s activity at the time of his death was personal in nature; therefore, the doctrine does not apply, and Decedent’s death is not compensable under the DBA. They argued that only recreational/ social injuries/ deaths and local risks fall under the zone of special danger.


The Ruling

The Appellant court disagreed and found there is no legal support for the DBA insurance company’s argument that only recreational/social activities or local risks can give rise to application of the “zone of special danger.”  Thus, the death was found compensable under the Defense Base Act.

More great information on the Defense Base Act

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