Maintenance & Cure
Unlike dock and harbor workers, seamen are special type of maritime worker who do not have a statutory based entitlement to payment for the necessary medical care to treat injuries that occur while working for a ship. In place of such a system, seamen are instead entitled to recover ancient common-law benefits called “maintenance and cure.”
A seaman becomes entitled to these benefits if they fall ill or are injured while in the service of the ship, regardless of whether the illness or injury the seaman complains of was caused by any fault or negligence of the ship or crewmember. Injured seaman may seek to recover their maintenance and cure benefits in addition to filing a lawsuit under the Jones Act for negligence or for unseaworthiness. Importantly, as the obligation to pay maintenance and cure is not tied to proving negligence or fault, a seaman is entitled to be paid these benefits while the other litigation is ongoing.
Although the injury or illness the seaman begins to suffer from must arise while the individual is working in the service of his or her ship, this does not require that the seaman actually be out on the water when the injury occurs or illness first onsets. In other words, a seaman that happens to be on a shore leave during a hitch and becomes injured there may still be entitled to receive maintenance and cure benefits. The obligation to provide maintenance and cure also requires the employer to provide treatment to the seaman while he or she is still onboard the ship.
An injured seaman is entitled to maintenance payments to compensate him or her for the living expenses incurred while undergoing treatment. The maintenance payments compensate the seaman for his reasonable expenses of rent and groceries. If a seaman’s actual expenses are higher than the amount initially being paid by the employer, then they may present evidence of actual expenses to request a higher amount. Seamen are also entitled to payments for their medical treatment known as cure. A seaman has the right to choose his own doctor or physician for medical and curative treatment and does not have to use a “company man” doctor if they do not want. An injured seaman remains entitled to these special benefits up until the point they are deemed by doctors to have reached a point of maximum medical improvement.
Further, if an injured seaman is willfully denied their right to maintenance and cure benefits after an injury then they may also be entitled to seek punitive damages and have their attorneys’ fees covered in a future lawsuit. The United States Supreme Court confirmed in the 2009 case Atlantic Sounding Company v. Townsend that when an employer willfully refuses to pay maintenance and cure benefits without reason the injured seaman may recover punitive damages in addition to the benefits owed. Some examples of this that courts have found include when an employer denies the benefits to the seaman without investigating his injuries or the employer relies upon their own retained physician’s opinion to find that the seaman has reached maximum improvement.
If you or a loved one was injured anywhere on The Gulf Coast, Call our Law Firm with offices in Beaumont, Galveston, Houston, Victoria, Rockport, Corpus Christi, the Valley or San Antonio we are here to help. Call 1.800.862.1260