Maintenance & Cure
Injured at Sea? You May Be Entitled to Maintenance & Cure.
If a seaman is injured or falls ill while in the service of a vessel, they are entitled to maintenance and cure—regardless of fault or negligence. The owner of the ship or the seaman’s employer must pay for the living expenses (maintenance) and medical treatment (cure) the seaman needs until they have reached maximum medical improvement.
Maintenance and cure is one of the most basic rights of maritime workers and can be traced back to medieval times. Unfortunately, some shipowners and employers attempt to underpay or deny maintenance or cure. This is not only a violation of maritime law, but it also puts seamen at risk of not getting the treatment they need and not having the means to support themselves and their families while they recover. At Arnold & Itkin, we hold maritime employers accountable for paying maintenance and cure. We can talk to you about your rights under the Jones Act and other applicable laws.
If you have questions about maintenance and cure after a maritime injury, we have answers. Call (888) 346-5024 for a free consultation!
A Brief History of Maintenance & Cure
The principle of maintenance and cure has deep historical roots, originating from ancient maritime customs and laws. The doctrine's origins can be traced back to the medieval sea codes of Europe, emphasizing the special nature of seafaring work and the relationship between seamen and their employers.
Seamen were often seen as "wards of the court" in legal traditions, reflecting the perilous nature of their work and their dependence on shipowners. Maintenance and cure acknowledges the seaman's reliance on the ship for both employment and residence. If a sailor becomes ill or injured and can no longer work, they also lose their place of residence. So, the shipowner's responsibility to provide for the sailor's living expenses (maintenance) and medical care (cure) arises. This obligation is deep-seated and exists irrespective of the shipowner's fault regarding the injury or illness.
Among the earliest references to a concept similar to maintenance and cure can be found in the medieval sea codes, such as the Rolls of Oléron. Originating in the 12th century, these rules from the island of Oléron (located off the west coast of France) contained provisions about the care and treatment of sick or injured sailors. These rules eventually influenced other maritime codes across Europe.
The doctrine of maintenance and cure was further refined and developed in English admiralty law. By the 18th century, English courts recognized the duty of shipowners to care for ill or injured seamen, emphasizing the unique challenges and risks faced by sailors and the necessity of ensuring their well-being.
Maintenance & Cure Today
Today, the doctrine of maintenance and cure remains a vital component of U.S. maritime law, ensuring protections for modern seamen who become ill or injured during their service to a vessel.
Here's how it applies:
- Scope of Application: Maintenance and cure applies to seamen who fall ill or get injured while in the service of a ship, regardless of whether the illness or injury is related to their work. The crucial factor is that the seaman's condition manifested or worsened while they were serving the ship.
- Components: Maintenance refers to the daily living expenses a seaman is entitled to while recovering. It typically covers food, housing, and basic utilities. The actual daily rate for maintenance can vary, depending on contractual agreements or regional standards. Cure refers to medical expenses associated with a seaman's treatment and recovery. It includes doctor visits, hospital stays, medication, therapy, surgeries, and other necessary medical care.
- No-Fault Nature: One of the most significant aspects of maintenance and cure is its "no-fault" nature. This means that a seaman doesn't need to prove that the shipowner was negligent or that the ship was unseaworthy to receive benefits. But, if negligence or unseaworthiness is proven, the seaman may also be entitled to additional damages.
- Duration: A shipowner's obligation to provide maintenance and cure continues until the seaman reaches "maximum medical improvement" (MMI). MMI is the point where the seaman's condition can no longer improve with further medical treatment, even if they haven't fully recovered or returned to their previous health state.
- Denial and Penalties: If a shipowner unjustly denies a valid maintenance and cure claim or underpays a seaman, the shipowner might be subjected to additional damages. Courts have, in some cases, awarded punitive damages to seamen when shipowners willfully withhold maintenance and cure benefits.
While maintenance and cure is a foundational right for seamen, it's not their only recourse. Seamen might also have rights under the Jones Act if their injury results from the negligence of the shipowner or other crew members. If the ship was found to be unseaworthy, they may have a claim based on the doctrine of unseaworthiness.
Protecting Your Right to Maintenance & Cure
Maritime workers are entitled to maintenance and cure benefits regardless of who is at fault for the accident. The law is on the side of injured maritime workers. The U.S. Supreme Court has said maintenance and cure benefits should be full and inclusive—a concept some maritime employers have trouble grasping.
Courts have found that maintenance benefits include reasonable expenses for rent, room, electricity, phone, food, and transportation. Some employers try to nickel and dime an injured seaman and pay outdated maintenance rates of $15 to $35 per day, claiming that is the cost of a bunk and meals aboard ship. Similarly, some employers may try to pick and choose which medical services they will cover for injured or ill workers.
At Arnold & Itkin, we hold maritime employers accountable for providing full and inclusive maintenance and cure benefits. We have taken on some of the biggest companies on the planet after the worst maritime disasters, including the sinking of the El Faro and the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon. We hold offshore companies and maritime employers accountable for helping injured crew members and their families rebuild. We’ve changed our clients’ lives and set records time and again for the largest verdicts and settlements—totaling more than $20 billion.