Cruise Line Employees Are Entitled to Maintenance and Cure
Having won a $1.8 million jury verdict in a fall on a yacht case resulting in a low back injury that did not even involve surgery, with the judge deeming the jury verdict too high, Law Offices Cytryn & Velazquez, P.A., is available to handle your maritime injury cases.
If you were injured while taking a vacation on a cruise ship (from a slip and fall on the ship or any other type of injury), or if you are a ship crew member who became ill or injured at sea and who is seeking maintenance and cure benefits, contact our office today for a free and confidential consultation.
What is Maintenance and Cure?
Maintenance and cure is an ancient maritime law remedy that goes all the way back to the medieval sea codes. Elements of maintenance and cure can be seen as early as the Laws of Oleron - sea law dating to the late 12th century - and to 1338 in the Black Book of Admiralty, a compilation of ancient English admiralty law. In its most basic sense, maintenance and cure means compensation for a ship’s crew members who become ill or are injured, or whose preexisting condition becomes aggravated, during their period of employment with a ship.
When a crew member falls ill or is injured while serving the ship, the shipowner has certain duties toward the crew member, including providing maintenance and cure.
- Maintenance refers to a shipowner’s obligation to provide food and lodging (basically a per diem living allowance covering basic necessities)
- Cure refers to the shipowner’s duty to pay for medical expenses (such as hospital bills, doctors, radiograph tests, rehabilitation costs, etc.)
The duty to provide maintenance and cure is separate and distinct from any question of whether the shipowner’s negligence caused the illness or injury. In other words, there does not have to be any negligence or wrongdoing of the shipowner in order for a crew member to become entitled to maintenance and cure. The obligation to provide maintenance and cure benefits does not depend on the shipowner’s culpability for the seamen’s illness or injury, nor is it limited to instances when the seaman’s employment itself is the cause of the illness or injury.
So, the general rule of maintenance and cure is fairly straightforward: a ship’s crew member is entitled to maintenance and cure for any and all injuries or illnesses that occur, or prior illnesses that recur or are aggravated, while the seaman is serving the ship, regardless of whether the injury or illness is related in any way to the seaman’s employment. So, this is the case even if the injury or illness is not actually related to the crew member’s duties toward the ship, as long as the injury or illness is not due to the crew member’s own willful misconduct or gross negligence. As the Supreme Court explained, service to the ship means that the crew member “must be generally answerable to [the ship’s] call to duty rather than actually in performance of routine tasks or specific orders.” Farrell v. United States, 336 U.S. 511, 516 (1949).
If your employer failed to provide you maintenance and cure benefits after you became ill or were injured on a ship, contact our office today for a free consultation at (954) 833-1440 . Our attorneys have decades of experience representing clients in maritime injury cases.
What is the Purpose of Requiring Shipowners to Provide Maintenance and Cure?
There are a few rationales underlying a shipowner duty to provide maintenance and cure (and unearned wages, which is an element of maintenance and cure awards) to mariners. For one thing, seamen have a unique relationship to their ship. When they are at sea, as the U.S. Supreme Court noted in Pac. S.S. Co. v. Peterson, there is a sort of “personal indenture” between the seaman and his vessel. The duty to provide maintenance and cure and unearned wages protects injured seamen from being abandoned ashore in a foreign and unfamiliar port. At the same time, the duty to provide maintenance and cure advances the shipowner’s interests because it encourages seamen “to engage in perilous voyages with more promptitude, and at lower wages,” as Joseph Story famously wrote two hundred years ago in the case of Harden v. Gordon, 11 F. Cas. 480 (C.C.D. Me. 1823).
In short, the duty to provide maintenance and cure provides a benefit to both the crew member and the shipowner.
For How Long a Time Does a Shipowner Have to Provide Maintenance and Cure?
If a crew member's injury or illness occurs during the period of their service to a ship, they are entitled to maintenance and cure.
For example, if a crew member becomes incapacitated during a voyage due to an illness (regardless of whether the illness was caused by his work on the ship), let’s say due to a heart problem or a reoccurrence of a prior illness, then the crew member still could be entitled to maintenance and cure from the shipowner.
But this maintenance and cure that a crew member receives is not a source of lifetime or even necessarily long-term income. A shipowner's duty to pay maintenance and cure to a crew member continues until the seaman reaches the point of maximum medical recovery, also known as maximum medical improvement (MMI).
One way to look at this is that maintenance and cure benefits should continue until the incapacity is deemed to be permanent, at which time the shipowner’s duty to provide maintenance and cure ends. But if at some point in the future new medical treatments become available, a seaman may be able to renew a demand for maintenance and cure benefits to pay for the new treatment.
What Happens if a Shipowner Refuses to Provide Maintenance and Cure?
When a crew member makes a demand to a shipowner for maintenance and cure benefits, the shipowner does not have to immediately start making maintenance and cure payments. Instead, the shipowner is allowed a chance to investigate the claim prior to being required to make payments.
If after investigating (or refusing to investigate) the shipowner unreasonably refuses to make payments, then the shipowner may be liable not only for paying the maintenance and cure benefits but also for compensatory damages that resulted from the failure to pay. For example, if the failure to make payment for medical care resulted in an aggravation of the crew member’s illness or injury, then the shipowner may be liable for compensatory damages for the aggravation.
In more limited circumstances, a shipowner may even be liable for punitive damages. Though for punitive damages to be available, the shipowner has to do more than just unreasonably deny the maintenance and cure claim. The shipowner would have to engage in willful, callous, or egregious conduct; there has to be a certain level of level of callousness, recalcitrance, and bad faith before punitive damages become available in maintenance and cure cases.
If you were injured or became ill while working in the service of a ship, you may be entitled to real compensation by your employer. Unfortunately, many times maritime employers refuse to treat their crew fairly and justly. When that happens, you need somebody who will fight for your right to compensation for your injuries or illness. If your employer refuses to make maintenance and cure payments, contact our office today at (954) 833-1440 to speak with an attorney for a free consultation about your claim.
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