Workers’ Comp Coverage Varies for Civilian Workers Injured in Acts of War

February 3, 2003

Military personnel depend on the U.S. government for compensation, but for civilians who may be subject to war risk while living or
traveling abroad, the issue is not so cut-and-dried, according to the National Association of Independent Insurers (NAII).

The NAII said civilians working abroad who might be killed or injured as a result of war generally would be covered under state workers’ compensation plans as long as the employee was in “harm’s
way” because of the job requirements and when there exists a connection or “nexus” with a specific state and its laws. However, circumstances and state laws differ so each claim will be decided on its own merits.

The NAII explained that there are no exclusions for acts of war in workers’ compensation policies, but states vary on how broadly they define a compensable injury. There are basically two sets of employees and the issues for each differ to some degree. The first
set includes those who are injured while traveling. The second group are those who have been hired to live and work overseas.

“Most employees who are injured or killed while traveling as a result of their employment would be covered unless there is clear evidence that they have deviated from the purpose of their employment,” NAII assistant vice president, Workers’ Compensation, Nancy Schroeder, said. “An extreme example would be a worker who traveled into an area of fighting just to see what was happening, putting herself or himself in harm’s way with no clear connection to their employment or any job requirement. In this case, most states would deny
compensation. However, as long as the employee is performing his or her job duties and engaging in normal travel, most states would cover any injuries.”

For those employees that live in a foreign country on a more permanent basis, the first question is whether there is a nexus with a state, Schroeder said. Once this fact is established, there would still be a need to determine that the injury arose out of and in the course of employment, she said.

“If the initial hiring of the employee took place in a specific state the nexus with a state could be satisfied even if the worker is living in a foreign country on a more regular or long-term basis,” Schroeder commented. “Obviously this is not just an issue for American employees living and working in Iraq, but in all countries where there may be conflicts, such as Saudi Arabia, Israel, Kuwait and other war-torn regions.”

Biological or chemical warfare, including coverage for adverse reactions to inoculations for small pox and other diseases is another area where coverage varies.

“Case law on coverage for immunization dates back to the 1920s when there was a small pox epidemic in the United States,” Schroeder explained. “Then and now, the pertinent questions are: does the employer benefit from the immunizations? Does the employer require the employees to have the immunizations? Was the employer under a mandate to provide immunizations?”

According to Schroeder, these variables will mean that each state may look at coverage for adverse reactions to the inoculations on a case by case basis.

Kentucky recently sent out a bulletin on the issue that said it anticipates that adverse reactions would be covered, but ultimately the decision will be made on a case by case basis and individual adjudication. One of the primary issues will be whether the employer received some benefit from the immunization.

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