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The History of the DBA Zone of Special Danger
The Defense Base Act provides workers comp protection to certain civilian employees working outside the United States on US military bases or under a contract with the US government. An important component of the Defense Base Act is what is known as the Zone of Special Danger.
The Zone of Special Danger applies when the conditions of employment place the worker in a setting where the worker has a heightened risk due to exposure to a higher degree of danger.
The DBA Zone of Special Danger Started in England
The ZOSD was actually “borrowed” from England, by way of a 1917 English case called Thom v. Sinclair. In that case, the House of Lords examined whether an injury arose in the scope of employment when a wall fell on top of a shed where the employee was working. The key determination was that courts should consider the nature, conditions, obligations, and incidents of employment to determine whether the employee was in a ZOSD when the injury occurred.
The DBA Zone of Special Danger in the US
Justice Cardozo first used the term DBA Zone of Special Danger in the United States in the 1920s. Prior to his appointment as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Benjamin Cardozo served as a judge on the New York Court of Appeals. In 1920, then-Judge Cardozo applied the Zone of Special Danger doctrine in deciding a case called Leonbruno v. Champlain Silk Mills. The case was brought by Leonbruno, a factory worker.
Leonbruno was performing his duties in the employer’s factory when he was struck in the eye by an apple which one of his fellow employees, a younger boy, was throwing at another. Consequently, Mr. Leonbruno lost part of the sight in one eye. Then-Judge Cardozo found that Leonbruno’s exposure to the risk of injury from the careless acts of others in the factory brought him within the Zone of Special Danger, in that “whatever men and boys will do when gathered together in such surroundings, . . . was one of the perils of his service.” In other words, Leonbruno was injured not just because he worked in a factory, but because he worked in a factory where some of the young factory workers (pre-child labor laws, which took effect in 1938) were prone to hijinks. The risks of such associations and conditions became risk factors of the employment itself.
Other jurisdictions were quick to apply the DBA Zone of Special Danger doctrine in favor of injured workers or their survivors. A Texas court issued an opinion favoring Leonbruno‘s Zone of Special Danger, saying that Cardozo’s ruling in Leonbruno “stated the rule splendidly.” Other jurisdictions followed suit.
The U.S. Supreme Court and the DBA Zone of Special Danger
In 1951, the U.S. Supreme Court applied the ZOSD doctrine to a Defense Base Act claim in O’Leary v. Brown-Pacific-Maxon, Inc. In its opinion, the Supreme Court stated core concepts of the ZOSD doctrine:
The test of recovery is not a relation between the nature of employment and the injured person and the accident. Thom v. Sinclair, (1917) A.C. 127, 142. Nor is it necessary that the employee be engaged at the time of the injury in activity of benefit to his employer. All that is required is that the ‘obligations or conditions’ of employment create the ‘zone of special danger’ out of which the injury arose.
The DBA Zone of Special Danger is Still In Use Today
The Court has essentially left unchanged the core concepts of the Zone of Special Danger doctrine since its inception in 1951. Recent caselaw indicates that the ZOSD is still alive and well, and far from the original apple in the eye, it is now being applied to injured civilian defense workers in the mid-East and elsewhere. The doctrine expands the scope employer liability, and as such is something valuable to consider when filing a Defense Base Act Claim.
Best DBA Zone of Special Danger Attorneys
Our highly specialized Defense Base Act attorneys are committed to ensuring that every injured or disabled civilian employee obtains the benefits he or she has earned. We have successfully filed hundreds of Defense Base Act applications and appeals – obtaining millions of dollars in DBA benefits in over four decades of legal service.
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Our highly specialized Defense Base Act attorneys have successfully filed hundreds of Defense Base Act applications and appeals – obtaining millions of dollars in DBA benefits in our four decades of legal service.
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