Bath Iron Works Corp. v. Director, Office of Workers' Compensation Programs - Oral Argument - November 04, 1992

Bath Iron Works Corp. v. Director, Office of Workers' Compensation Programs

Media for Bath Iron Works Corp. v. Director, Office of Workers' Compensation Programs

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - January 12, 1993 in Bath Iron Works Corp. v. Director, Office of Workers' Compensation Programs

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 04, 1992 in Bath Iron Works Corp. v. Director, Office of Workers' Compensation Programs

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument next in Number 91-871, Bath Iron Works v. the Director of the OWCP.

The spectators are admonished, do not talk until you get outside.

The court remains in session.

Mr. Gillis, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Kevin M. Gillis:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court:

This case involves the question of interpretation of the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act as amended in 1984, as it applies to claims by retired workers for occupational hearing loss.

The facts are quite simple.

Mr. Brown, the plaintiff, worked for the employer, Bath Iron Works, in Bath, Maine, from 1939 until his retirement in 1972.

In 1985, 13 years after his retirement, he filed a claim for occupational hearing loss under the act.

That claim was based upon an audiogram taken in 1983, which showed an 84 percent hearing loss.

That award was made under section 908(c)(13) by the administrative law judge.

The issue as presented is whether certain amendments to the act in 1984 applying to occupational disease claims by retirees should have been applied to determine this worker's claim, or this worker's benefit.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit below held that the occupational disease amendments in 1984 were not applicable to hearing loss claims and would not affect this case.

Previously, the administrative law judge on the Benefits Review Board of the Department of Labor had held in this case that the occupational disease law amendments would apply for the limited purpose of determining the average weekly wage for the purpose of calculating benefits, but that they were otherwise not applicable to hearing loss claims.

In other cases, the Fifth and Eleventh Circuits have held that the occupational disease amendments in 1984 do apply to hearing loss claims and subsequently the Department's Benefits Review Board earlier this year reversed itself and has agreed with the Fifth and Eleventh Circuits.

Our position is that the amendments do apply.

In order to analyze the problem, it is necessary to review the statute as it existed prior to 1984 and the case law under the pre-'84 statute.

Prior to the amendments, the statute provided for two basic types of disability benefits.

The one would be a nonscheduled award, or an award for economic disability.

That comes into play when the worker is disabled by injury or disease from performing his regular work.

He could have received benefits for total or partial benefits which could be temporary or permanent.

The second basic type of award is a so-called scheduled award, found in sections 908(c)(1) through (20).

That award compensates the worker for specific losses of bodily parts or bodily functions or percentages of loss.

Among the types of scheduled award is a hearing loss under section 908(c)(13).

Early in 1984, the Benefits Review Board issued two decisions having to do with retirees claiming occupational diseases.

The first was Aduddell v. Owens-Corning.

In that case, the worker had developed asbestos-related disease but had retired before the disease became manifest.

It was ruled that the worker was not entitled to a nonscheduled disability benefit because of his status as a retiree, the reasoning being that because he had retired he was out of the labor force and it was inappropriate to provide him with a disability benefit.

Less than a month later, the board decided Redick v. Bethlehem Steel, which was a claim by a retired worker for benefits under section 908(c)(13), a scheduled award for hearing loss, and following Aduddell, the board held that the worker was not entitled to the award because of his status as a retiree at the time the hearing loss became manifest.

Against this background, Congress amended the statute in 1984 in part dealing with the problem of occupational disease claims by retirees, and our position is that those amendments were intended to apply to hearing loss claims just as to other occupational disease claims.