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Potomac Elec. Power Co. v. Director, OWCP, 449 U.S. 268 (1980)

Potomac Elec. Power Co. v. Director, Office of Workers' Compensation

Programs, United States Department of Labor

No. 79-816

Argued October 8, 1980

Decided December 15, 1980

449 U.S. 268


Under the Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act, compensation for a permanent partial disability must be determined in one of two ways. First, if the injury is of a kind specifically identified in the schedule set forth in §§ 8(c)(1)-(20) of the Act, the injured employee is entitled to receive two-thirds of his average weekly wages for a specific number of weeks, regardless of whether his earning capacity has been impaired. Second, in "all other cases," § 8(c)(21) authorizes compensation equal to two-thirds of the difference between the employee's pre-injury average weekly wages and his post-injury wage-earning capacity, during the period of his disability. Respondent employee (an employee covered by the Act) in the course of his employment suffered a permanent partial loss of the use of his left leg, an injury specified in the statutory schedule. But the Administrative Law Judge, rather than awarding him compensation under the schedule, allowed him the larger recovery under § 8(c)(21), and the Benefits Review Board affirmed. The Court of Appeals also affirmed, concluding that the "all other cases" language in § 8(c)(21) provided a "remedial alternative" measure of compensation for cases in which the scheduled benefits failed adequately to compensate for a diminution in wage-earning capabilities.

Held: Respondent employee's recovery must be limited by the statutory schedule. Pp. 449 U. S. 273-284.

(a) There is nothing in the language of the Act itself to support the view that the reference to "all other cases" in § 8(c)(21) was intended to authorize an alternative method for computing disability benefits in certain cases of permanent partial disability already provided for in the statutory schedule. Pp. 449 U. S. 273-274.

(b) The Act's legislative history is entirely consistent with the conclusion that it was intended to mean what it says. Pp. 449 U. S. 275-276.

(c) The weight of judicial authority also supports a literal reading of the Act. Pp. 449 U. S. 276-280.

Page 449 U. S. 269

(d) It is not correct to interpret the Act a6 guaranteeing a completely adequate remedy for all covered disabilities, but rather, like most workmen' compensation legislation, the Act represents a compromise between the competing interests of disabled laborers and their employers. The use of a schedule of fixed benefits as an exclusive remedy in certain cases is consistent with the employees' interest in receiving a prompt and certain recovery for their industrial injuries as well as with the employers' interest in having their contingent liabilities identified as precisely and as early as possible. Pp. 449 U. S. 280-284.

196 U.S.App.D.C. 417, 606 F.2d 1324, reversed.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 449 U. S. 284.

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