If you are an offshore worker, chances are you have heard the phrase “maintenance and cure” a time or two. The concept of maintenance and cure is an important part of maritime law. Offshore workers should not only be familiar with the phrase but they should also understand when maintenance and cure benefits are warranted.
What Is Maintenance and Cure?
If a maritime worker is injured or falls ill while “in service of the vessel,” the shipowner (or employer) is responsible for the seaman’s daily living expenses (maintenance) and medical expenses (cure). The shipowner remains responsible for these expenses until the seaman reaches “maximum medical improvement,” a state where his or her condition cannot be improved any further or when a treatment plateau in his or her healing process is reached.
Maintenance payments are calculated based on the seaman’s living expenses. Maintenance benefits should cover the seaman’s mortgage, grocery expenses, and electricity and water expenses. Cure is the reasonable and necessary medical expenses incurred by the seaman for curative treatment. Employers also have the duty to furnish adequate medical treatment aboard the vessel.
Who Is Entitled to Maintenance and Cure?
Under admiralty law, workers are entitled to maintenance and cure benefits if:
- They qualify as seamen under the Jones Act.
- They were injured or became ill while in service to the vessel.
In general, a worker qualifies as a Jones Act seaman if he or she spends a significant amount of time working in service to a vessel that is “in navigation.”
Maintenance and Cure: Potential Issues
The obligation to pay maintenance and cure is “almost automatic” and is not predicated on the fault or negligence of the shipowner or employer. However, the shipowner will be absolved of this obligation in certain situations. If a seaman willfully conceals a pre-existing condition to his employer when he is hired, the employer will not owe maintenance and cure. This is sometimes referred to as the “McCorpen” defense.
If the employer requires a pre-employment medical examination, the seaman must truthfully answer questions asked by a health care provider or in the hiring process. If the employer does not require a physical examination, the worker is only required to disclose conditions that he reasonably could be expected to know the employer would consider in hiring him. Finally, even where “concealment” is found, it will not defeat the employer’s obligation to pay maintenance and cure benefits under the law unless it is the cause of the current injury or condition.
Frequently Asked Questions About Maritime Accidents
If an employer willfully or recklessly denies a seaman’s maintenance and cure benefits, the worker may be entitled to punitive damages.
Maritime workers are not required to visit a company doctor after a maritime accident, though they should not refuse medical treatment after an injury. They have the right to see the doctor of their choosing, regardless of whether or not they have already seen a company doctor. This is important because it ensures that the treating physician is an objective and unbiased party who is not affiliated with the employer, which can help protect against any potential bias that may be present in the medical care provided by someone associated with the company.
While there isn’t a definitive answer regarding whether a worker can be blacklisted for making such a claim, current laws are in place to protect seamen and other maritime workers from this form of discrimination. In Pino v. Protection Maritime Insurance Company, the court ruled that blacklisting or blackballing offshore workers is illegal.
The law also mandates that employers must not discuss the fact that an employee has filed a claim against them if they are asked for a reference. It is important to remember that while no one can guarantee protection from blacklisting after filing a claim, one’s legal rights should be upheld if this occurs.
Speak to a Louisiana Maritime Attorney Today
Lambert Zainey has more than 35 years of experience handling maritime injury claims. If you have been injured while working offshore, we can help you get the maintenance and cure benefits that you deserve. Contact us today for a consultation.