Taking an expansive view, the Court concluded that anyone handling cargo in that area would be covered. At the time, Caputo and Blundo were not directly involved in loading or unloading a vessel, but their "regular work" involved such cargo operations. Only people exclusively involved in land transportation, such as truck drivers, were excluded. The Court held that both Caputo and Blundo were "engaged in maritime employment" and covered within the meaning of the Act. Because work assignments could change during the day, the Court held that workers were covered for their entire shift so long as some of their activity involved cargo work within the port area. With the 1972 Amendment, Congress intended to adapt the Act to modern cargo techniques to prevent individuals from walking in and out of coverage during the course of a workday. Once status is attained, the worker keeps it even when he does non-Longshore work.
The next issue was how far ashore Longshore coverage applied. Employers argued for a very narrow application, asserting coverage should stop once the cargo was offloaded. This was rejected by nearly every appellate court that considered it prior to Caputo, and the Supreme Court dismissed it as well. The employer challenged application of the Act to the area where Blundo worked, since it was a pier no longer used for the direct loading or unloading of cargo. Because the entire terminal area adjoined navigable waters and was used to load and unload cargo, the portion where Blundo worked was covered.
Two years later the Supreme Court again confirmed the expansive nature of status in P.C. Pfeiffer Co., Inc. v. Ford, 444 U.S. 69 (1979). Diverson Ford was injured on a public dock while securing military vehicles on a train. The vehicles had been delivered to the port by ship, stored, and then loaded onto the flatcars the day before the accident. Will Bryant was injured while unloading a bale of cotton from a dray wagon into a pier warehouse. The Court affirmed coverage for both workers, noting that anyone involved in the intermediate movement of cargo from land transport to a ship or from a ship to its first land transportation would be integral to the loading and unloading process.
Taken together, Caputo and Ford cast a broad net, bringing into Longshore coverage a host of workers in the marine terminals. Coverage has been confirmed not only for people who handle cargo but also for those who operate and repair loading equipment, cranes, conveyor belts, valves, and hoses used in cargo operations and extends to supervisors and union officials who split time between office work and dock activities. Any person whose regular work connects them to cargo operations can be covered.
The Courts of Appeal diverge widely on how far ashore situs exists. The Fourth Circuit (Tidewater states of North & South Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland) limits coverage to the immediate waterside areas, stopping coverage where any road, fence, path, or rail line intervenes. The other circuits extend coverage beyond the strict confines of a port into surrounding areas. The Supreme Court has shown no interest in resolving these conflicts.
Finally, if status and situs are established, Longshore benefits apply whether or not the location is owned or operated by the employer in question. For example, a crane operator was injured while transferring already delivered cargo from a trailer to a truck inside the fenced boundary of the Port of Tacoma. Only 2-5% of his time involved Longshore work, but this was enough for the employee to receive Longshore benefits though his work at the time of injury was not "maritime employment."
Employers need the expertise of maritime underwriters and claims professionals who know the law in the different circuits. SeaBright has the right crew to assess your workers' compensation exposure and handle claims that arise in situations where jurisdiction - state or federal -needs clarification.