Maintenance and Cure
Maintenance and Cure - A Seamen's Right to Medical Treatment and Living Allowance Following an Accident Aboard Ship
If you have been seriously injured or became ill while working as a seaman, fisherman, deckhand or fish processor, your first question will be, “Who is responsible for paying the medical bills, and what compensation will I receive while I am recovering from my injuries?”
“Maintenance” is a daily living allowance paid to a seaman while he is recovering from his injury or illness. Maintenance payments continue until a seaman has reached maximum medical improvement or until he is fit to return to duty at his previous level. There is no set daily rate for maintenance, and the rate of maintenance may vary from case to case. Typically maintenance rates are set by employers very low in the range of $30 to $35 a day. A maintenance rate in a seaman’s employment contract is non-binding with the exception of some collective bargaining agreements. Following the Supreme Court’s holding in Atlantic Soundings Co. v. Townsend in 2009 many employers and vessel owners are now paying more appropriate rates for maintenance in the range of $50-60 per day. Paying too low a rate for maintenance may expose an employer and vessel owner to claims for punitive damages.
“Cure” is a shorthand term used for medical expenses associated with a seaman’s injury or illness. In almost all cases, a seaman’s employer must pay all reasonable and necessary medical expenses associated with a seaman’s injury or illness. These expenses may include doctor and hospital bills, therapy expenses, nursing bills, MRI and CT scans, wheelchairs, diagnostic testing, pain clinics, transportation costs to and from the doctor, and other reasonable medical-related expenses. An injured seaman has the right choose his own doctor. The right to cure continues until the seaman has reached maximum medical improvement. Many employers and marine insurance adjusters attempt to wrongfully terminate a seaman’s benefits before they have reached maximum medical improvement. Where there are conflicting medical opinions about whether or not further medical treatment may improve a seaman’s medical condition, maritime law requires those doubts be resolved in favor of granting further treatment.
The duty to provide cure includes the duty to provide reasonable and necessary medical care to a seaman aboard ship. The seaman’s employer must use reasonable care to get a sick or injured seaman to shore for emergency medical treatment. Failure to timely evacuate an injured or ill seaman from the ship may give raise to a claim for negligence and possible punitive damages.
Every seaman who is injured or becomes ill while in the service of his vessel has the right under Federal Maritime Law to “maintenance and cure.” The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that punitive damages may be awarded against an employer who willfully and wantonly withholds maintenance and cure benefits from a seaman. Maintenance and cure benefits are a no-fault benefit, and the seaman need only prove that he was injured or became ill while working. Seamen do not have to prove negligence to collect maintenance and cure benefits. Similarly, comparative fault does not bar your right to maintenance and cure benefits. There are few defenses to a seaman’s claim for maintenance and cure, and absent willful misbehavior or intentional misconduct - A seaman’s employer must provide maintenance and cure.
Seamen with preexisting medical conditions are not barred from making maintenance and cure claims. If shipboard work aggravated the condition, the seaman may still be eligible for maintenance and cure benefits. Many employers improperly attempt to deny seamen maintenance and cure benefits based upon preexisting conditions. Unless there was a material misrepresentation in a medical questionnaire that would have impacted the employers decision to hire the seaman, benefits should be paid.
Seamen who are injured aboard ship also have a no-fault claim for “unearned wages.” This is a maritime common law right for an injured or ill seaman to be paid wages until the end of the voyage. The length of a seaman’s voyage may be determine by the employment contract. In the absence of a written employment contract, many different factors must be considered in determining the length of the voyage for purposes of unearned wages.
The maritime doctrine of maintenance and cure is based upon maritime common law. In addition to these basic benefits, a seaman who is injured through negligence or unseaworthiness may seek additional compensation for his injuries. A seaman that is injured through negligence is entitled to claim damages against his employer for lost past and future wages, medical expenses, pain and suffering, vocational retraining costs, loss of wage earning capacity, and loss of enjoyment of life. Few accidents aboard a ship or fishing vessel could not have been prevented if proper equipment and safety procedures had been provided and followed. Maintenance and Cure provides seamen with basic benefits, however, it is the Jones Act and unseaworthiness doctrine that provide seaman with the rights to full and complete compensation for their injuries.
The maritime lawyers at Stacey & Jacobsen, LLP have handled thousands of maintenance and cure and Jones Act negligence claims for injured seamen throughout the Nation. They are dedicated to protecting seamen’s basic rights to maintenance and cure benefits. They understand your injuries and how important it is to get you the best medical care possible. If you have questions about your rights to maintenance and cure, contact the maritime lawyers at Stacey & Jacobsen, LLP for a free initial consultation. The Jones Act - It’s the law and its your right!