(c) 2022 Jon L Gelman, All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Navigable Waterway Confers Jurisdiction

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that workers compensation benefits are payable under The Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act (LHWCA) if the worker injured on “navigable water.” There is no need to prove that the waterway “is capable of sustaining ‘commonly used large commercial ships” or if there is evidence of ‘present commercial use.’”


“The facts are not disputed. From approximately 2010 to 2014, Respondent Creamer-Sanzari Joint Venture ("Creamer") employed Wilson as a marine construction worker on the New Jersey Route 3 bridge replacement project. The Route 3 Bridge spans the Lower Passaic River from Clifton to Rutherford, New Jersey at River Mile 11.8. At that location, the navigation channel was authorized to be 150 feet wide and ten feet deep. Wilson's primary job on that project was to drive steel piles for a cofferdam, which is a watertight structure that allows for construction below the waterline. From a float stage on the river, Wilson positioned and secured piles while a crane operator hammered the piles into the riverbed. This process routinely exposed Wilson to extremely loud working conditions and, in 2014, he was diagnosed.

Holding: Navigable Waterway

“…we are able to conclude that the Lower Passaic River at Mile 11.8 was navigable in fact in 2010. The record shows that there were no impediments blocking the navigation channel between its confluence with the Newark Bay and the Route 3 bridge. And, at all points in between, the channel exceeded four feet in depth and seventy-two feet in width. Because we look to whether a waterway "by itself or by uniting with other waterways, forms a continuous [commercial] highway," Reeves, 26 F.3d at 1253, and because commercial vessels could navigate within the noted physical constraints, we conclude that the river was navigable in fact at River Mile 11.8. [emphasis added].

Wilson v. DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF WORKERS' COMPENSATION PROGRAMS, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, Court of Appeals, 3rd Circuit 2020 984 F.3d 265 Decided December 31, 2020.

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Jon L. Gelman of Wayne NJ is the author of NJ Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thomson-Reuters) and co-author of the national treatise, Modern Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thomson-Reuters). For over 4 decades the Law Offices of Jon L Gelman  1.973.696.7900  has been representing injured workers and their families who have suffered occupational accidents and illnesses.

Blog: Workers ' Compensation

Twitter: jongelman

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LinkedIn Group: Injured Workers Law & Advocacy Group

Author: "Workers' Compensation Law" West-Thomson-Reuters