Maintenance Benefits and Cure Compensation: Your Relief After a Maritime Injury
Maritime work offers a rewarding yet often hazardous career opportunity for many men and women in Texas. In addition to the inherent dangers of an offshore work environment, maritime workers must also face treacherous working conditions and potentially serious work accidents. As a result of the inherent workplace risks, seamen are protected by a unique set of laws. These laws are similar to workers’ compensation (WC) laws, yet offer much more protection for seaman than even the best onshore WC coverage.
When injured in a maritime accident, the Jones Act (the most widely used defense for maritime injury), the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, or the Death on the High Seas Act will help to determine injury and damage compensation for you or your loved ones. Under the Jones Act, a seaman has a right to compensation following an injury that occurred while performing duties related to his job; this compensation is referred to as maintenance and cure. Therefore, in addition to the standard benefits allocated by these acts, injured workers may also be eligible for benefits under maintenance and cure rules.
Maintenance and Cure: Room, Board, and Medical Care
The doctrine of maintenance and cure (M&C) is a recognized product of maritime common law. Since the beginning of maritime employment, seafaring nations have employed a principle that seaman shall be provided room, board, and medical care in the event of a maritime injury. This belief has traveled across oceans and survived throughout the centuries to become the present day rules of maintenance and cure. However, to fully understand your M&C benefits and rights, you must first understand what the terms “maintenance” and “cure” truly mean.
- Maintenance. Maintenance coverage is compensation paid to an injured seaman to cover basic living expenses during recovery. Compensation comes in the form of a daily allowance and is used to pay for rent or mortgage, food, utility bills, insurance, and travel expenses while undergoing medical treatment. There is not one standard amount of money that every seaman receives on a daily basis; this will depend on the individual’s personal living expenses, and it must be within reason. Some maritime employers will only pay $20 to $30 a day, which is generally less than what the law requires them to pay, so make sure you discuss your expenses with your attorney before accepting a maintenance fee.
- Cure. The “cure” portion of maintenance and cure is more recognizable as standard workers’ compensation. It refers to restitution for medical care and related recovery expenses. Cure can include compensation for physician visits, medications, physical therapy and counseling. Sometimes, seamen are not given the compensation to which they are entitled, and require the representation of an experienced maritime lawyer to ensure their rights are upheld.
It’s important to know that maintenance and cure is not disability, and isn’t meant to be paid out permanently—even if the seaman has suffered an injury that will result in permanent disability. Once the recovery and treatment period is over, the person is considered to have reached maximum cure. Maximum cure is the point at which the injury or illness has improved as much as it can under medical care and cannot feasibly improve any further. Once the point of maximum cure has been reached, employers are no longer required to pay maintenance and cure benefits.
Maintenance and Cure Eligibility
As a seaman protected by the Jones Act, you have a right to maintenance and cure wages that will help you stay afloat—with a roof over your head and food on your plate—until you are well enough to return to work. An injured seaman is entitled to maintenance and cure even if the injury or illness occurred while docked or even on land. As long as he was considered in the service of the vessel, any injury that occurs (regardless of fault) will entitle the seaman to maintenance and cure benefits.
While employers are generally obligated to provide these wages for injured employees, your employer may attempt to claim one of a few scenarios to avoid paying up:
- You’re not legally eligible. If you were hurt while disobeying the law, using illegal drugs, or hurting yourself on purpose, you employer may not have to pay your maintenance and cure.
- You’re not trying to recover. If you do not follow the advice of your doctor, your employer has every right to believe that you may not be trying to return to work in a timely manner.
- You’re not telling the truth. If you hid a condition from your employer that would have prevented you from being hired, as well as contributed to your injury, your employer can argue that your willful concealment exempts the payment of maintenance and cure.
It is important that you keep a record of all communications with your employer following your injury to serve as evidence should you need to pursue punitive damages or take legal action to receive your maintenance and cure.
Pursuing Your Rights
If your employer is disputing your right to maintenance and cure, you are not alone in your fight to get the compensation you deserve. Attorney Steve Lee has made a 40-year career out of protecting Houston’s maritime workers, and he’ll fight to ensure that your rights as a seaman are protected.
If you have been injured in a maritime accident or are suffering from an illness caused by working offshore, Contact Steve Lee today at 713-921-4171 or 800-232-3711 for a FREE consultation and no-obligation legal advice regarding your maritime injury case.