Do Preexisting Medical Conditions Change Jones Act Claims?

When workers sustain offshore injuries, defense attorneys often try to limit their ability to recover losses by asserting that they were injured before the accident. They argue that preexisting conditions can exasperate injuries caused by accidents and, as a result, mitigate or eliminate a company’s responsibility to provide compensation for them.

Using pre-existing medical conditions as a defense is common in personal injury claims. However, the law applies a little bit differently if the injuries happened while working offshore.

Preexisting Medical Conditions, Offshore Injuries & the Jones Act

Offshore workers may be covered by a law known as the Jones Act. The intersection of preexisting medical conditions and offshore injuries under the Jones Act presents a complex legal landscape for injured seamen. The Jones Act provides robust protections for offshore workers, granting them the right to seek compensation for accidents and injuries incurred in the course of their employment. This includes covering medical bills, future care needs, and other related expenses such as lost wages. However, when a worker has a preexisting medical condition, this can complicate the claims process.

Challenges of Preexisting Conditions in Maritime Law

The presence of a preexisting condition often leads defense attorneys to argue that the injuries sustained are either not as severe as claimed or that they were not caused by the work-related incident. This is a strategic move to reduce the liability of the employer for the injuries. Defense lawyers might assert that the preexisting condition makes the worker more susceptible to injury, thereby attempting to diminish the company's responsibility to provide full compensation.

What Is the Maximum Medical Improvement Under the Jones Act?

Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI) is a crucial concept in maritime law, particularly under the Jones Act, which governs the rights of seamen injured in the course of their employment. MMI is reached when an injured seaman’s condition has stabilized to the point where no further medical treatment is reasonably expected to improve their condition. This does not necessarily mean that the seaman has fully recovered, or that they have returned to their pre-injury health; rather, it indicates that their condition has plateaued.

Under the Jones Act, the determination of MMI is significant because it affects the duration of maintenance and cure benefits—the basic entitlements for a seaman injured on the job. Maintenance covers daily living expenses during recovery, while cure pertains to medical expenses. These benefits continue until the seaman reaches MMI. Once MMI is declared, the employer's obligation to pay for maintenance and cure ceases, regardless of whether the seaman continues to experience pain or other symptoms.

What Is the Jones Act Maintenance & Cure?

Maintenance refers to the daily living expenses that an injured seaman is entitled to while recovering. This typically includes food, rent or mortgage payments, utilities, and other basic living costs. The purpose of maintenance is to sustain the seaman at a basic level during their recovery period, as if they were still able to work and earn their usual wages.

Cure, on the other hand, pertains to the medical expenses associated with treating the seaman’s injury or illness. This covers all necessary medical treatments, hospitalization, therapy, rehabilitation services, and medication costs incurred until the seaman reaches maximum medical improvement (MMI).

The obligation to provide maintenance and cure does not depend on the employer's fault or negligence; it is a no-fault benefit, which means that as long as the seaman's injury or illness occurred in the service of the ship, they are entitled to these benefits. This no-fault aspect is critical because it provides a safety net for seamen, who work in one of the most dangerous industries.

What Is the McCorpen Defense?

A company may try to avoid paying an injured worker the full compensation they deserve using something known as the McCorpen Defense. The McCorpen Defense can excuse a company's obligation to pay maintenance and cure if (1) an injured worker intentionally and knowingly withheld information about a pre-existing medical condition from the company during the hiring process; (2) the non-disclosed facts were important to the company's decision to hire the injured worker; and (3) there is a link between the concealed pre-existing injury and the new injury.

Evoking the McCorpen Defense is a common tactic in offshore injury cases, but the application of the law is complex. If the McCorpen Defense comes up in a case, it is important to have a lawyer who understands the legal framework that applies. Arnold & Itkin has successfully defeated many McCorpen claims, recovering billions of dollars for clients facing difficult situations.

Protecting Yourself From the McCorpen Defense

If you have been injured offshore and have a preexisting medical condition, it’s possible the company will attempt to use that condition against you—even if it has no association with your newest injuries. It is important that you have an attorney that is intimately familiar with the Jones Act and other parts of maritime law to make sure your legal rights are fully protected.

While preexisting conditions add complexity to claims under the Jones Act, the protections afforded by the Act still provide a pathway to compensation. Seamen must ensure they are upfront about their medical history and seek legal guidance to navigate the potential challenges in their claims process. This approach helps protect their rights and ensures that they receive the necessary support for injuries sustained while serving at sea.

Speak to a Maritime Lawyer at (888) 346-5024

At Arnold & Itkin, we have a history of getting results from resistant offshore companies. When TOTE Maritime recklessly sent a ship into a hurricane, we fought their tactics until the crew’s widows were treated right. After negligence on the part of Transocean and BP triggered the Deepwater Horizon disaster, we stood up for the rig’s survivors to make sure the companies did right by them in the end.

Our name is known in maritime law because we’ve handled some of the most complex cases in recent history. Call us today for a free consultation at (888) 346-5024.

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