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Can relatives collect Defense Base Act benefits if a family member drowned overseas?

The Defense Base Act has some of the strongest worker protections in U.S. law, providing injury and death coverage to employees in a wide range of circumstances. If a worker is killed overseas, the DBA provides death benefits to certain eligible family members. Beneficiaries can receive payments up to 50% of the deceased worker’s average weekly wage for life, plus up to $3,000 in funeral expenses. Since this can be extremely expensive for insurers, they may push back against these claims rather than pay out.

DBA Coverage Applies to Most Overseas Drowning Incidents

Civilian employees face many hazards while working outside the United States, especially those who work near lakes, rivers, or other bodies of water. The DBA recognizes that, simply by working in an overseas environment, an employee is at a high risk of injury both on and off the job. As a result, the DBA could provide death benefits for injuries that occurred:

  • On days off. Under the DBA, employees who are working in a "zone of special danger" are covered during recreational activities, since they may be required to live in dangerous settings as part of the job.
  • During training. Training exercises and work-related improvement (including physical exercise alone or in a group) are compensable under the DBA.
  • During travel. Death benefits are available to workers who drowned as they were traveling over water between worksites, or who were pursuing leisure activities on boats or ships.
  • Away from the job site. Even if the employee was miles away from the job site when the incident occurred, the death might still be covered by the DBA.

Although most fatal accidents are covered under the DBA, it often takes the help of an attorney to get relatives the benefits they are owed. If you or someone you love has been killed while working overseas, you should speak to an attorney as soon as possible about your right to collect income replacement and death benefits. For more information, please feel free to search our library articles or read through our free book, DBA Resource Guide.

William Turley
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