The Rundown On Maintenance And Cure

Centuries ago, seamen who were injured in the line of duty ran the risk of being dropped off at the next port, hundreds of miles from home, and abandoned. Over the centuries, laws have been enacted to try and curb this type of behavior and ensure that the captain of the vessel retains some responsibility for injured crew. Today, these measures survive as maintenance and cure.

A vessel owner becomes obligated to pay maintenance and cure from the time that a seaman becomes injured until the point when the seaman reaches maximum medical recovery. Maximum medical recovery does not necessarily mean that the seaman has fully recovered from the injury; rather, it is the point that the injury has improved as much as it is going to improve and all that is left is for the seaman to be treated for residual pain or complications. Maintenance refers to food and lodging expenses, while cure refers to necessary medical expenses.

The nice thing about maintenance and cure is that it is essentially a mandated benefit to injured seamen. With few exceptions, vessel owners must provide an injured seaman with a reasonable maintenance and cure until her or she reaches maximum medical recovery, even if they and their crews did nothing to cause the injury in question. What is more, payments of maintenance and cure are completely independent of any other litigation. A seaman can sue the vessel owner under whatever legal theory while receiving benefits for maintenance and cure.

Courts have taken a very expansive view of what qualifies as being “in the service of the ship”. Obviously, a seaman can receive maintenance and cure if they are injured while working on board the vessel. What is more, a seaman may receive maintenance and cure benefits for activities that are merely related to their service of the ship. For example, some courts have allowed maintenance and cure benefits for seamen who were on shore leave when they were injured.

Vessel owners who wrongfully deny maintenance and cure benefits to injured seamen run the risk of being slapped with punitive damages. Punitive damages are damages that are assessed by a Court to punish a party for very bad behavior. As such, a vessel owner who wrongfully denies maintenance and cure may find themselves on the hook to the seaman for potentially two or three times the amount they owed in maintenance and cure. Therefore, many vessel owners will pay maintenance and cure to injured seamen without much resistance.

If you are a seaman who has been injured and your employer is not paying maintenance and cure, you may wish to contact an experienced offshore injury lawyer to review the facts underlying your case. You may be able to recover not only the maintenance and cure you are owed, but also a hefty punitive damages award.


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