When a seaman becomes unable to work due to an on the job injury or illness, maritime law allows them to collect maintenance and cure benefits from their employers.
How Does Maintenance & Cure Work?
Maintenance benefits are payments for an injured or sick seaman’s living expenses, such as food and lodging, while they are recovering from their injuries or illness.
Cure benefits cover most medical expenses incurred due to the seaman’s injury or illness, including doctor and hospital bills, physical therapy, medical devices, medications, etc.
If a seaman qualifies for maintenance and cure benefits, the employer is obligated to pay these benefits until the seaman reaches Maximum Medical Improvement, or MMI. MMI is the point at which a seaman’s condition cannot be improved any further. This doesn’t necessarily mean the seaman is fully recovered and ready to return to work — it merely means that no further treatments or procedures will improve their condition.
I Haven’t Reached MMI, but the Company’s Doctor Says I Have
An employer has a right to require a seaman claiming maintenance and cure benefits to have their condition evaluated by a company doctor to determine if the seaman has reached MMI.
So what happens when the company doctor states the injured seaman has achieved MMI but their opinion does not agree with the seaman’s personal physician (or any medical professional with similar expertise)?
Just because a company doctor says a seaman has achieved MMI doesn’t necessarily mean they are ready to return to work. This can cause a lot of difficulties for the seaman, especially for conditions involving paralysis, cancer, nerve damage, head trauma, spinal injuries, brain injuries and other catastrophic injuries or illnesses. In these situations, a seaman may reach MMI after only a few weeks or months, though in reality, they will never be able to return to work again and require long term medical care.
MMI is a medical determination, not a legal one. If the company doctor is of the opinion that the seaman has reached MMI, the seaman has the right to see a doctor of their own choosing for an outside opinion.
Legal Options When Your Employer Unfairly Delayed, Denied or Terminated Maintenance & Cure Benefits
The courts have little sympathy for an employer who is “arbitrary and capricious” or “willful or callous” in delaying, denying or terminating maintenance and cure benefits to their employees. The law allows a seaman to take legal action against an employer who delays or denies a legitimate maintenance and cure claim, including punitive damages and attorney’s fees. If it can be proven that the seaman’s injuries were due to negligence on the part of the vessel’s owner, they may be qualified to collect additional compensatory damages.
Maritime law gives seamen the right to seek maintenance and cure benefits when they become disabled due to an illness or injury that happened on the job. If your company is trying to end maintenance and cure benefits prematurely, we recommend that you contact an experienced maritime law attorney.
Lambert Zainey is dedicated to protecting the rights of seamen and other maritime workers who have become injured and unable to work due to an on the job injury or illness. We’re one of the nation’s leading maritime law firms with almost 40 years of experience. If you are having trouble collecting maintenance and cure benefits or believe your maintenance and cure benefits were unfairly terminated, we urge you to reach out to Lambert Zainey without delay.